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This is my first post here, and I would like to say hello to everybody who is reading and writing posts on Personal Productivity Stack Exchange :)

I have known this subject (personal productivity) for a while, having read a lot of books about it, mainly the famous GTD ones, but also books from Stephan R. Covey, Leo Balbauta, or MYWN from Michael Lineberger. I have also read a lot of stuff about close domains of interest, such as procrastination management (see the books from Brian Tracy, Rita Emmett, Ari Tuckmann, Neil Fiore on habits, and "Overcoming Procrastination" on Wikiboks), ADD and ADHD people psychology, Personal Information Management (PIM), motivation, flow etc. I had also a software development attempt some years ago, implementing a task manager, a timer for Pomodoro techniques, and a routines/habits manager.

Everything first happened because of personal issues about productivity, and then it became a passionate subject of interest, leading me to want to redevelop my past software with innovative functionnalities and UX. But, in the other side, at the end of this bibliography journey, I feel like I have discovered a lot of techniques, good strategies to apply, but without any clue or proof about the effectiveness of everything, my experience being the only way to know if something is effective or not.

So, I would like to ask you this question : do you know any extensive scientific litterature exploring some of the things I know, and showing what works, what does not work, why, and giving strategies based on this bibliography and scientific proofs ? The only thing that I have seen until now is a brief paper saying that GTD principles are close to some cognitive studies. But I have not seen anything really satisfactory scientifically right now... Moreover, I think most of the bibliography I have read fails to give good advice about the software side of productivity management...

Thanks in advance !

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Welcome to Personal Productivity! I think that the effectiveness of productivity techniques is personal. What works for your may not work at all for someone else. I'm not sure how much research exists, but I any good research will be a generalisation over a large population and may not apply to you personally. – THelper Nov 14 '13 at 9:35
Also, from the research I did read over the years I noticed that researchers often disagree; for example some researchers have found that it's best to regularly take a short break during your work, whereas others say that it doesn't help productivity. – THelper Nov 14 '13 at 9:35
Hello, and thanks for your answer ! Indeed, I agree that effectiveness may be a personal concept and a personal observation for a given productivity system. But I think it would be great that information overload stops about productivity techniques. I think I can find dozens of new books about productivity released each year, and for me they don't bring relevant new information. – IvanC Nov 14 '13 at 9:51
Reasons for that are : these books are written by people who sell their own coaching experience, or personal productivity experience. I think it would be interesting for more academic people to tell their stories, to make a proper state of the art on this subject, and to discuss of what is working, based on the facts themselves, a synthesis from all the information available, and experiment results, like the ones which are done nowadays with meditation practices. Moreover, I think that there are serious flaws in gtd methodology that should be pointed out the good way. – IvanC Nov 14 '13 at 9:55
Maybe you're right, and academic people may have not enough researched this topic yet. I would like to see in the next years a consensus on good practices, promoted by scientific studies/papers and coaching, with software based on that. But I feel like we are still far from that. That's why I asked my question... – IvanC Nov 14 '13 at 10:06
up vote 4 down vote accepted

This academic literature review collates "32 empirical studies on time management conducted between 1982 and 2004".

Unfortunately it's not as simple as "GTD is proven as being better than X", but it does go some way towards defining time management techniques and proving "that time management behaviours relate positively to perceived control of time, job satisfaction, and health, and negatively to stress".

The abstract goes on to say that "time management training seems to enhance time management skills, but this does not automatically transfer to better performance."

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Thanks a lot for the link ! I will have a look at this article ;) – IvanC Nov 25 '13 at 6:07
Will upvote if you could give a better summary of the article. It doesn't seem to really say anything useful/practical. "Time management relates positively to perceived control of time, job satisfaction, and reduces stress" seems like common sense.. – Muz Nov 25 '13 at 15:08
That's the abstract of the paper - unfortunately, academic literature reviews (especially in the social sciences) rarely do much but dot the Is and cross the Ts of what you already know ;-) – Jonathan Deamer Nov 26 '13 at 13:30
I'm reading right now the thesis from the same author, Brigitte Claessens. It has allowed me to get a lot of new scientific references about time management too. In short, the thesis is about a lot of things, such as techniques to measure the productivity of people, perceived control of time, job satisfaction, prioritizing tasks etc. the gaps in the current research, pacing, and a lot of time-management hypothesis testing. Very interesting. – IvanC Nov 29 '13 at 9:31

I think you might find my website to be useful.

Like you, I have found the popular books written to be largely anecdotal, with few or no references to research they have done or anyone else has done. Wolfen666 is right - these authors are sharing what works for them, and asking everyone else to follow along by copying their methods. The upside is that this makes their books easy to write and simple to understand. On the downside, it makes their prescriptions devilishly hard to implement. (This happens to be long-belabored point of mine.)

On my website's library, I have listed over 100 academic papers from my personal library that are available on the Internet. They are all connected with time management in some way. Unfortunately, after years of searching I'm unhappy to report that my listing is the only one of its kind... ;-(

You can check out my blog's articles to see where I have read and applied the research I have uncovered. I have a few favorite researchers as you'll see from the ones I cite the most frequently. You can also see where their finding contradict aspects of many popular books... which isn't surprising, because the authors don't actually offer any proof of their assertions. They don't even say, "This works for me and here's the process I used to discover it."

The reason their books sell so well, from what I can tell, is that there's a huge gap in time management research. It's inter-disciplinary nature is a big turn-off in academia. In the field of time management, there is not a single university department focused on the topic, no conferences and no journals. There's a little research happening in industry, but not much.

As for software... that's a whole 'nother topic, and a pet peeve of mine.

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of passion in this area, plus I'm also writing another book that will cite the best research wherever it can be found. So, I'm actively looking for new knowledge at the moment and hitting lots of walls.


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A couple of books I have read implicitly tie together good productivity processes with scientific discoveries about how human and artificial intelligence is processed.

The first book is "How to Create a Mind" by Ray Kurzweil. The author describes the scientific research about how the brain gives us the ability to deal with patterns of information and to do so in a hierarchical fashion. This hierarchical structure allows recursive processeses to recognize patterns, fill in the blanks and fit new ideas into that hierarchy.

The second book is "Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach" by Stuart Russell and Perter Norvig. The authors rigorously discuss the mechanics behind artificial intelligence. It is described mostly in terms of search algorithms but it gets back to hierarchies, pattern matching and problem solving.

Productivity processes tie into how the brain works. Its how people decide where they are now and where they want to go in the future. The research is now catching up to what mammals have been practicing for thousands of years.

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