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A variety of productivity systems and techniques are discussed on this site (e.g. GTD, Inbox Zero, FTF, Pomodoro, etc.); however, lots of folks probably land here because they're looking to learn more about productivity in general or only know one or two systems well.

What are the fundamental behaviors that cut across multiple productivity systems or that represent personal productivity best practices in general, even if they aren't codified in a named system?

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up vote 19 down vote accepted

In my recent poking around several different systems, I've noticed a couple different recurring themes:

  1. Reduce input to actionable tasks: Whether it's collecting and processing items in GTD to "close open loops" or moving all emails out of the Inbox in Inbox Zero, the concept is to not deal with multiple To Do lists and projects and sources of information floating around everywhere, but to take that input and organize it into well-defined categories of actionable tasks.

  2. Focus on one task at a time: While this hasn't been explicitly mentioned in several of the systems I've looked at, it seems like an underlying principle is to decide what to work on, then works on the task until completion without distractions.

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Isn't Inbox Zero completely GTD-inspired? Just making sure credit's where credit's due. – Vic Goldfeld Nov 19 '11 at 13:11
@VicSzpilman - I think David Allen calls it "getting your inbox to empty" and that it was Merlin Mann that coined the term Inbox Zero – eflat Feb 26 '12 at 8:09

I see most of the answers talk about identifying doable tasks, single-tasking and prioritizing. I think another quite important aspect is review. I think most of the systems (certainly GTD , Pomodoro, Agile in IT) talk about Review.

Review is what allows you to learn and course-correct how you are doing things.

I think Pomodoro and agile reviews are backward looking (review how well we have done), while GTD reviews are more forward looking (sweep, process, clean, think 20,30,40000 feet) but Review is what tunes the system.

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I think most of them can be summarized as "Keep a written record of tasks and organize according to some system, then work on one at a time".

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Note it down.

The palest ink is better than the best memory.

— Chinese proverb

Freeing your mind is important, as it allows for more focus by reducing how much you interrupt yourself with thoughts and reminders that could be saved for later. By noting it down often and quickly, these reminders and thoughts are stored in a safe place. This helps you organize your thoughts, rather than let them fly around in your head.

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  • Make a list of tasks
  • Determine which task to work on
  • Keep a calendar
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I would say that any system is going to succeed or fail based on three things:

1) How well does it help you determine what's important to you?

2) How well does it help you plan to advance those things?

3) How well does it keep you organized as you pursue them?

Everything else is just best practices.

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