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Many productivity systems are complex and hard to keep going. The benefit of these systems often comes from not the overall systems but from the specific tactics or techniques they encourage.

What is the simplest (yet surprisingly) effective productivity increasing technique you know of?

One technique per answer would probably make the most sense, so we can vote on techniques independently.

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closed as not a real question by Adam Wuerl, Jeanne Boyarsky, Dori Jul 17 '11 at 22:59

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This question doesn't seem to meet the general guidance for good subjective questions. There is not really a right answer and it's more of a survey of techniques than a question that can be answered, even if only subjectively. –  Adam Wuerl Jul 16 '11 at 22:50
    
True, sorry about that. Athough when stackoverflow started it had a lot of q's like this that while subjective, I think were very helpful in building the community and still remain the highest voted stackoverflow.com/questions?sort=votes –  Adam Jul 16 '11 at 23:28
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Also, it's perfectly acceptable to answer your own questions, but typically it's best to only answer it once, so in this case the answer would be about what are the set of simple and effective productivity techniques (assuming you have more than one) from my perspective--enabling people to vote on your set--rather than putting each one in a separate answer, which can look like rep gaming (even though that probably wasn't your intent). Having a good single answer leaves a better internet artifact. –  Adam Wuerl Jul 17 '11 at 12:03
    
Sorry Again, I swear I'm not trying to break all the rules :) My intent was to have the best bubble up to the top, by putting one in each answer. Like here: stackoverflow.com/questions/500607/… –  Adam Jul 17 '11 at 12:54
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Blimey - if you kill off questions like this the site will get nowhere. –  Nick Pierpoint Jul 27 '11 at 14:41
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10 Answers 10

Next Action Lists

Much of the benefit from GTD I think comes from taking a todo list and transforming it into a list of next actions. Much procrastination is just because you don't clearly know what the next step to take is.

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exactly........ –  0xakhil Jul 19 '11 at 14:50
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Focus on a single task for 25 minutes, and after that time has passed, you stop and take a break of 3-5 minutes. Repeat.

This is basically the whole pomodoro technique.

It works really well if you get easily distracted, because you can tell yourself, "I will [check my email|get a snack|check facebook] in 15 minutes, when the timer goes off, not now"

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Mind like water: write everything down

This is also one of the most important concepts IMHO: not trying to keep things in mind, but unburden the brain by writing everything down and make lists.

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* "MIT's" (Most important tasks), "Big Rocks", "Critical Now Tasks", "Must Do today"

.. or however they are called. I think one important thing is to know what you want to achieve "today" or in a given time interval and to have a clear and short list of things at hand, that have to be done next.

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"Knowing which thing to work on" is what I would call this. I think the "Big Rocks" from convey are specifically not "Critical Now Tasks" tasks. They are the important as opposed to the urgent. –  Adam Jul 17 '11 at 12:58
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@Adam: "Critical Now" is a Term used in Michael Linenbergers new Book "Master your workday now". Very shortly said he proposes a daily task list with at least 2 sections: "Critical Now" (you would stay longer at work, if they were not done today, so quite the same as "must do today") and "Opportunity Now" (which would be good, if you could get them done today, as they might get urgent soon or are important for your goals). So, at least for my understanding, "Critical Now" (in the sense of MYWN is not necessarily urgent or due today, but might also be important but not urgent. –  Martin Jul 17 '11 at 19:48
    
Ah, I see, I will have to check out that book. –  Adam Jul 20 '11 at 15:42
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@Adam: I can highly recommend it! IMHO this is an excellent book, especially for people having to deal with a much to big work load. You'll find more information on michaellinenberger.com . There are some parallels to GTD, but I found it more concrete in terms of tips for getting along with the daily chaos e. g. in my job as a project engineer in industry - let alone the idea: the most important things to do are (only!) those you would stay longer in the evening to finish them. –  Martin Jul 20 '11 at 20:11
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Do it now, do it once!

A concept I know from Kerry Gleesons book Personal efficiency program:

A lot of time is wasted by doing things twice, re-reading information, etc.

  • If we do tasks directly when they appear, this can save a lot of time.
  • However, this is dangerous, as one might tend to act on every unimportant thing and neglect the really important or more important things (procrastination). So it has to be used with care. Gleeson extends the concept to "Do it now, later!", which means that not everything has to be done now, but if you don't have time now, decide when to do it and do it then!
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Spaced Repetition System

Part of being productive includes knowing stuff. Software like Anki allows you to effectively store information in your own brain.

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I've been using anki for a year now and its really quite an addictive way to learn things –  Adam Jul 20 '11 at 15:52
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I am fond of GTD's 2 minute rule. If you have an action that can be completed in less than two minutes don't bother putting it into your system, just do it right then.

The rationale is that it will, over the course of processing and completing the action take around two minutes of meta-activity, so if the action is quicker than that it's more efficient to finish it now.

This technique has the added benefit of replacing what would have been actions on a list with completed tasks.

At first, your mental clock for how long two minutes is made need some calibration--I know it was longer than I thought--but after a while it becomes second nature.

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Focus on one thing at a time so you don't waste time switching between task.

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Pull network/Internet cable (or turn off wireless access for that matter).

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Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today

Meaning if you can complete a small task within next 5 min, do it immediately and don't put it on the next action list. Your task list will grow non-linearly if you don't obey that aphorism.

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that's quite the same as "Do it now, do it once!", isn't it? -> productivity.stackexchange.com/questions/596/… –  Martin Jul 16 '11 at 17:29
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