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Epidsode 30 – Productivity Systems

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Let's face it, in this business there are two types of people: Those that deliver and those who don't. What you may not know is that the differentiating factor could be as simple as whether or not a person has a trusted system in place which allows them an easier time at Getting Things Done.


When someone is productive they tend to be goal oriented; they know what they want to achieve and more importantly how they can go about doing so. A lot of people think that these achiever-types are just "naturally gifted", however the only "natural" inclination common amongst them is that completing tasks drives them to achieving goals. Fear not! This can be learned! Try it yourself. Write a simple task list out for Saturday chores (Shovel the walk, get the groceries, fill the tires in the car, etc...). You'll find that you start feeling good by not only completing those chores, but also from the sense of accomplishment which comes in crossing them off the list. That sense of accomplishment you get drives you to do more and the side effect of all this is larger goals get eaten away bit by bit until they are completed.

The biggest trick though is building the habit to write down tasks and even more importantly: refer to your task list on a timely basis. Its one thing to write something down, its another thing to ensure you go back to that list. If you can accomplish these two basic tasks, you are on your way to becoming a less stressed and anxious person who is looked upon as being a reliable person who has their sh!t together.

Is one of your problems that you get distracted and can't focus long enough to complete even the simplest tasks? Try the Pomodoro technique. Essentially Pomodoro has you assign a block of time to a task. Any distraction or interruption eats away at your Pomodoro time. At the end of the time block, if you haven't finished the task at hand, you take a small break and either setup another time block and try to finish the task, or move on to something else. It makes you less prone to "checking twitter" until it's your break time.

Are you a visual person by nature? Perhaps the Kanban system could help you or your team as a whole. It has you separate your tasks into "lanes" which indicate the state of a task. States might include: In Progress, Needs Attention, or the most important state: Done.

What you'll find with a lot of these systems is the overarching theme of "Divide and Conquer" or "Defeat in Detail" in military terms. I for one am not good with large tasks until I can divide them up into bite size chunks. It's also a nice mind trick when you start feeling really good about completing those small chunks which comprise a large goal, even if you've only tackled 20% of the whole; it still makes you hungry to tackle more.

A lot of the productivity systems can be implemented using Pen and Paper, one we haven't mentioned is "Auto Focus", however there are a bunch of computer programs which have sprung up to help you on your way to productivity:

  • OmniFocus and Things.app for the Getting Things Done system
  • Pomodoro Timer
  • EverNote for collecting random notes and snippets, then organizing them and turning them into tasks later
  • Concentrate an app which helps you block common distractions like Twitter, Facebook, etc... Helps when implementing Pomodoro

And finally, if you are like me and have all your great epiphanies whilst in the Shower and yet have no means write them down, there is a waterproof shower notepad for jotting down those social networking site multi-billion dollar ideas :)

Thanks to Marc Jeanson who provided many of the links and his great insight on the cast. Marc's company Redline Software is creating productivity software which should be released in the near future. We'll let you know when it launches and get our listeners some sneak-peek beta demos. Marc also authored a screen cast on how to implement the zero inbox technique using OmniFocus.

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About the Author

Craig Tataryn started his career as a Visual Basic programmer, but don't hold that against him! The system he helped create was a cutting edge, n-tiered revenue collection system whose transactions per second metric was off the charts! Around the year 2000 he discovered Struts and never looked back. A professional Java developer for close to a decade, Craig has worked on a wide variety of projects ranging from Recruiting, Purchase order, Revenue collection and Mortgage systems. More recently Craig has written web services for children's educational toys and has honed his skills on Wicket, SOA and iOS application development. "I love to learn and more importantly I love to teach. Hoarding knowledge is one of the most petty and selfish things you can do, especially as a contractor. This is why I always make it a point to document and share my knowledge with my client's employees"

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