Five Effective Techniques To Improve Your Productivity

Five Effective Techniques To Improve Your Productivity

When it’s time to buckle down and get some serious work done, we trust that you have a go-to productivity method or technique that functions best for your workflow. At Lifehacker, we talk a lot about the different techniques you can use to spend more time doing, and less time organising or thinking about doing. If your current method is working for you, here are five productivity techniques that have proven highly effective for countless people.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique was created by Francesco Cirillo back in the early 90s as a way to harness the power of focused work and frequent breaks to be more productive. We’ve discussed the method and some tools to help you stick to it, but honestly all you need to get started is a simple timer and a little discipline. There are no expensive seminars, downloads or books you have to buy, or classes you have to take. For that reason, it’s incredibly popular, especially among developers and designers, and people who have large projects that require them to sit down and produce some kind of work over the course of their workday. The method is simple: Get your timer and set it for 25 minutes. Start the timer, and start working. Focus on your work, and don’t stop for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop working and take a short (5 minutes) break. That’s one “pomodoro”. Repeat the process, and every four pomodoros, take a longer (15-30 minutes) break to recharge. You’ll feel rested and recharged, and you’re encouraged to focus on your work in short, sustained bursts.

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done (GTD) is the invention of David Allen, author of the book Getting Things Done. This productivity method has earned such a massive following that there are blogs, to-do apps, classes, seminars and an entire side-industry around how to get started and how to apply it to your day-to-day routine. The methodology doesn’t require you use a tool, although there are lots of them available. The real thrust of GTD is to encourage you to embrace some method to get your tasks and ideas out of your head and organised as quickly as possible so they’re easy to manage and see. GTD also suggests you organise to-dos in order of priority and time required to accomplish them: things that can be done quickly should be done sooner, and large projects should be broken out into things that can be done quickly. There’s much more to it, and it can be a little difficult to adopt, but once you start using GTD, you may never go back.

Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret/Don’t Break the Chain

Aside from being the preferred productivity method of our own Adam Dachis, the “Don’t Break the Chain” method is simple to implement and leverages our own human nature to keep us working on the things that are important to us and reaching for our goals. Embracing it is simple: pick something you want to start doing, do it, and then spend the same time every subsequent day doing that thing. Every day you do the thing you want to do, mark it down on a calendar. Over time, that series of marks on the calendar will serve as their own motivation, encouraging you to keep going, and keep doing that thing every day as long as you can. in essence, don’t break the chain. All you really need to get started is a calendar of some type and a marker. As you work, you’ll be able to easily see how we’ll you’re doing because you can look at the calendar, and as Adam notes in his post on the technique, you can easily plan for sick days, vacations, and still keep the rhythm going. No books to read, no software to install — just you, a calendar, and little red marks that keep you motivated better than any email alert or buzzing mobile device ever could.

The Action Method

The Action Method is actually a methodology and software by Behance. Most of you who voted for it also noted that you didn’t necessarily use the software, but you liked the productivity method’s emphasis on actually accomplishing tasks and finishing work instead of just organising your to-dos. The Action Method proposes that you leave every event, whether it’s a meeting or a brainstorming session, with a set of concrete tasks you can perform, called “action steps”. Each item is its own to-do, and they’re kept separate from “references”, or the materials you need to accomplish those items. Some dislike the Action Method because it crams all of your to-dos together and eliminates categories. Others note that this gives you a clear view of everything you have to do, all in bite-sized items you can work on any time. You can adapt any productivity tool to the Action Method, or use Behance’s Action Method webapp, iOS and Android apps, iPad apps, or even its paper “Action Journal” or “Action Runner” products, if you want help getting started.

A Hybrid/Custom Personal Method

Many of you noted that you combined the elements of multiple productivity methods to make your own. Whether you blended GTD and Pomodoro (which was an especially popular combination) or you used elements from Inbox Zero Kanban, or you had a favourite tool that you used in a unique way, it’s clear that a number of you took our advice to heart when we suggested you remix your own productivity method using the elements that are most applicable to your workflow and that you like the most from other techniques and methodologies. Many of you noted that you had a tool that really resonated with you, and even if the tool didn’t cater to a specific technique, you found a way to enter tasks or create your own categories so it would work the way you preferred. By their powers combined, you’re Captain Productivity!

Honourable mentions this week go out to Kanban, a method that encourages focus on what you have to do right now, what’s on your plate next, and what you’ve just completed, all organised into categories that are easy to switch among. Also worth mentioning is the 10 Minute Hack, which we mentioned earlier this week as a great way to get started and power through your pressing tasks and beat procrastination.

Did your favourite not get enough nominations to make the top five? Have something to say about one of the contenders that we missed? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • Simply do the work right away. As soon as you get it, do it. If you can’t then write it down so when you have nothing to do you do them. You don’t need all of the apps and timers, just do the work when you get it.

    • …uh… what if you’ve been asked to mop up a spill, but then a fire breaks out and you have to stop mopping and start saving children? It’s a priority thing (urgency and importance), and managing the flood of requests/tasks/demands that come in from every direction. Just doing things right away isn’t a productive method or strategy (more like a tactic) at all.

      Also, if you could let me know right away, because I’ve only done half the floor and the room is filling with smoke.

      • Mate of course safety comes first but I’m sick of people bitching how they are flooded with work so they do nothing, just do the work that is given right away and move on. Now I’m a teacher so I’m more focused on students rather then the general population.

    • Hey, Peter, mate… Imagine you work for a large company and there are multiple work queues you must monitor — your Inbox, a bug reporting system, a project management system, and your telephone. No, you can’t automate it into one list because you’re not allowed programmatic access to the bug reporting and project management systems (let alone your phone voice mail).

      “Do it as soon as it comes in” is not practical with the potential volume of requests per hour that can come in, and the number of places you’d have to keep checking for new work items. “If you can’t then write it down so when you have nothing to do, do them” is a problem, because you don’t necessarily ever GET to a point of having nothing to do.

      As others pointed out, when processing the backlog of assigned but not yet completed tasks, you have to take into account not just when the task was assigned, but when it’s due, how important is it to whom, what other tasks depend on it, etc.

      To actually get myself to do things I’m not excited about, to get them off my list, Pomodoro is good for time discipline. For letting a manager see how bad the hell I’m in at work is, a kanban-like status display showing “to-do”, “waiting for replies”, “actively working”, and “done this week”. It also simplifies status reporting down to summarising what’s up on my board.

      What I do is that within each category above, I list things vertically as a ROUGH indicator of priority. This gives my manager a way to check on the status of many of my tasks (but, not all… the bug reporting system isn’t well represented here except for large bugs), without interrupting me unless he wants to question something he sees, which saves me time answering questions.

      And CJ, if you can follow “Only touch a piece of paper once’ in your job, you have a simpler job than I do. For example, I may need to touch the paper, put it in my queue, make some calls, do some research, make more calls, and finally act on that paper. I would not necessarily know how much time was involved up front, or how critical the task was, without the initial “touch” to review it. However, it might be low-priority but not delegatable (so I do eventually have to aciton it), so I might have to touch it later. If actioning it involves making requests for information to other people, I might have to touch it again after that when they reply, etc.

  • “Only touch a piece of paper once” – a little dated in the wording but translates well to all environments.

  • For me I use two things.

    A moleskin to carry around, my iphone’s Reminders app, and my sticky note pad on my mac desktop.

    I’ve always at least got one of these things nearby at all times, so whenever a new task comes up, or an incomplete one springs to mind I record it somewhere. I favour the reminders app when possible and anything I record on the other two gets transferred into the iphone then deleted or crossed off. Once In the reminders app you can set due dates, even location based reminders e.g. when I arrive home from work a reminder pops up saying “call John about x” it can then be ticked off as complete and you can look through all your completed tasks as a reference point.

    It’s not fantastic for project management but for every day work/home life it is great. You can add small tasks as part of your bigger projects in there as well.

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