Do you ever feel like you have a dilemma of choice when trying to decide how to become more productive? There are so many well-known methods and theories that making a decision regarding the best one for you, personally, can be a great challenge.
That’s why we’ve rounded up three of the most popular strategies: Getting Things Done (GTD), Pomodoro, and Seinfeld, analyzed them, and provided tips regarding each method and what kinds of characteristics you might require to benefit from one over the other.
Before the era of cellphone timers, people used second-ticking timers to keep track of the timing of their dishes. In the 1980’s these little round tomatos began to be used outside of the kitchen, and to help increase productivity.
Created by Italian entrepreneur, Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro technique is based on time-management and is fairly simple. You work on a specific task or project for 25 minutes straight with no distractions and then take a five minute break to grab a coffee, stretch your legs, or use the restroom. After you’ve completed four rounds of “pomodoros,” amounting to 100 minutes of work with 15 total break minutes, you take a longer rest (15-20 minute). Each time you complete one pomodoro of 25 minutes, you mark your progress with an X and note how many times you were tempted by distractions.
If you finish your task before the 25 minute limit, you should not stop working– review completed work until the timer is up. On the extended breaks, it’s recommended to go for a walk, eat a snack (try one of these!), or try and get a change of scenery by taking your things to work from a different location.
Ideal for you if:
- Your to-do list tends to be long and varied with tasks that each require undivided attention
- You are often tempted by distractions like social networks, cell phones, or even other tasks
- You tend to work best under pressure and time sensitivity
- You tend to have a short attention span and/or work in an office setting at a desk
Everyone knows of Jerry Seinfeld, the famous New York comedian, but not everyone knows that he’s credited for a popular productivity technique that many people use to build and strengthen habits and skills. It was in 2007 when aspiring comedian and software developer Brad Isaac went to perform at a comedy club where he met Seinfeld and asked his advice about developing comedic prowess. The answer Jerry gave is what has now become known as the Seinfeld method of productivity.
The premise is the following: you must never break the chain. Pick a task that you can sustain daily, that will make an impact on your final goal. For example, it’s fine to read a book about watercolor painting techniques, but if you don’t actually pick up a brush and start painting, you will never improve your painting skills.
You should do this task each day. In order to stay motivated, Seinfeld’s method requires a year-long calendar that will allow you to mark each day on which you performed your task. You start making consistent marks and “after a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain,” said Isaac to Lifehacker back in 2007.
Here’s a great year-long calendar that can get you started with the Seinfeld method:
The Seinfeld method can be loosely correlated with the 10,000 hour rule, as explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, that purports that the key to success in any field is, largely, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total 10,000 hours or more.
Ideal for you if:
- You’re trying to build a daily habit from scratch (healthy eating, exercise, reading, etc.),
- You want to learn a new skill (computer programming, art, cooking, etc.),
- You want to excel at something that requires consistency (well, that’s pretty much everything!).
Getting Things Done (GTD)
One of the most famous productivity methods is Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen, a productivity consultant, coach, and public speaker. Based off of his best-selling book, called one of the best self-help business books of our time by Time Magazine, the step-by-step method focuses on two key elements: control and perspective, meant to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed, bolster confidence, and generate creative energy.
GTD is broken down into five steps:
Capture – collect what has your attention. From little to big, personal to professional, record every single to-do, project or task that’s on your plate. Use a to-do list app like Todoist or even a simple pen and notebook, but get everything recorded as it pops into your head.
Clarify – process what it means. Make the decision: are these items actionable? If not, remove it from your list. If it’s actionable, decide what action you need to take next. Delegate if you can. If it’s a big project, like Marketing Plan for 2014, break it down into a hierarchical order with subprojects and subtasks.
Organize – put it where it belongs. Place actionable items in determined lists, like people to call, emails to send, or papers to write. Adding priorities to these tasks is ideal.
Reflect – review frequently. “This is where the clarifying step pays off, because you should be able to pick something you have the time and the energy to do right away,” says Alan Henry of LifeHacker. Consistently revise your lists to decide what to do next. Schedule a weekly overview to see where you can streamline and update your lists.
Engage – simply do. “Use your system to take appropriate actions with confidence,” says David Allen.
The idea is to close all “open loops” in your life– you can start by achieving inbox zero, even if it takes several days. Too many of these “open loops” (things we’ve committed to but haven’t kept track up) tend to induce stress if we don’t capture them into a system we know and trust. “Our minds start racing and it’s all downhill from there. Capturing is the key to keeping yourself sane,” says Lifehack writer Chris Smith.
Ideal for you if:
- You struggle with organization (think overflowing inbox or papers all over your desk)
- You tend to feel overwhelmed by how many things you have to do
- You value and work well with high levels of structure
Let us know in the comments– which productivity method do you use? Or which one would you like to try?