Take control of your productivity

Written by: Emma Stuart
Published On: 16 Sep 2016

Implementing some simple time management strategies is an obvious first step to getting some control over your day. Here’s a quick look at some popular productivity systems that might work for you.

Do you know someone who is super productive? You know – someone who has the same number of hours to work with but seems to achieve way more than the rest of us? We all do, I think. And chances are, they are using some sort of productivity system to help them along the way.

Whether you’re a civil engineer working onsite, an aerospace engineer working in an office or a mechanical engineering apprentice trying to study as well as work on the shop floor, it can be tough to balance everything without getting stressed.

Implementing some simple time-management strategies is an obvious first step to getting some control over your day – but how do you use that newly-found time as productively as possible? Here’s a quick look at some popular productivity systems that might work for you.

The Einsenhower Matrix

The Einsenhower Matrix is a simple way to categorise your impending tasks and make sure that those that need doing get done first and prevent getting bogged down with busy work.

Tasks are either urgent or not urgent (i.e. need doing now) and either important or not important (i.e. contribute to a long-term mission or goal). Once you have assigned them to the correct section of the matrix, you can take action as appropriate:

1. Important and urgent – deal with these personally, straight away
2. Important and not urgent – deal with these personally and assign them a date
3. Unimportant and urgent – delegate these out for immediate action
4. Unimportant and not urgent – drop these from your list

This deceptively simple technique helps you to cut through the noise and focus on the tasks that really do need doing.

The Pomodoro Technique

Developed in the 1980s and named after a pomodoro (tomato)-shaped kitchen timer, this system concentrates on making the most of set time intervals with short breaks in between.

To get going with the system, simply pick one task and work on it for a set time period, called a pomodoro. Traditionally a pomodoro is 25 minutes long. If something else pops into your head while you’re working on the task, write it down and immediately go back to what you were doing.

When your pomodoro is over, add a tick to a piece of paper to help you track how many pomodoros you’ve completed. Then kick back and relax for a few minutes before starting the process again. After four pomodoros, grab a cup of tea and take a longer break of 15-30 minutes to allow your brain to rest and assimilate new information before restarting your work.

Getting Things Done (GTD)

Getting Things Done is probably one of the most famous productivity systems going, with David Allen’s original system spawning all manner of apps and workflows to help with implementation.

At the core of Allen’s system is the understanding that our brain really hates unfinished tasks – known as open loops – with too many open loops causing us unnecessary stress. Projects and tasks are removed from the mind, recorded and broken down into individual work items. Each of these tasks is then assessed to decide whether it should be done immediately, delegated, deferred or dropped.

Although this process is easy enough to be captured in a simple flowchart, the rest of Allen’s New York Times bestselling book goes into great detail about how best to process all of the open loops in your life, leaving you at ‘inbox zero’ and with a huge number of tasks ticked off with the minimum amount of stress. The beauty of the system, and its persistent popularity, perhaps lies in the fact that there’s flexibility within it to do things in a way that suits the way you work best – so whether you’re a fan of online lists and calendars or a notebook and paper, this system may well work for you.

Don’t Break the Chain

This productivity system is based on the method that the famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld gave when asked for his best advice. Where GTD uses a highly structured approach to productivity, Don’t Break the Chain takes a simpler tactic.

Pick a task that you want to work on and pick an aspect of it that you can commit to working on a little every day. Every single day. Every day that you complete your task, you mark a big red X on a wall calendar. And the goal is to never break that chain of red crosses.

The original system calls for a big wall calendar but, if you prefer, apps such as chains.cc are there to help you track your chains and watch as it gets longer and longer.

So need to brush up on some equations? How about setting aside 20 minutes a day? Want to start working on a new project idea you have in your spare time? Try committing to one specific task on your development list each day. Doesn’t sound like much, right? Make sure you pick something achievable, you’ll be surprised how quickly all those little crosses can add up to something amazing.