What Are Productivity Systems Really For? Five Elements to Include in Yours

“You can’t be productive unless you have a system, a method, a process, whatever you want to call it … Some people invent a system. Some people learn a system. But everyone has a system. “ — Daniel Threlfall, American business writer.

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that modern white-collar workers will almost always find new ways to be collectively productive. Despite all the hurdles we must leap—complacency, overwork, recession, disengagement—Western workers tend to push ahead on the productivity front. While productivity growth occasionally drops on a quarterly basis, that’s uncommon; productivity has consistently risen since 1970.

Why? Partly due to new technologies coming into play. Partly due to corporate restructuring. Partly due to the growth of productivity systems, which are a set of practices and rules specifically intended to increase workplace performance.

What features should your productivity systems include? Here are five important ones:

  1. It must help you identify necessary tasks. If your productivity system lacks this as its first step, it’s flawed, no matter how famous. First, sit down and lay out the chores you must do on a daily and weekly basis, no matter what they are. While it’s great to love your work, it doesn’t matter you if you love a task or not. Include it on your list, so you can get a realistic idea of the number of hours you’re going to put into your job. Even if work’s a labor of love, you can only safely work so many hours a week. This is the minimum necessary skeleton of your work schedule, whether the tasks involve housekeeping (like doing a scheduled backup of your active projects) or projects approaching their deadlines. If there’s any time left over, you can flesh out the skeleton somewhat.

  2. It must break down projects into manageable pieces. Every major project looks overwhelming at first, but you can always break it down into smaller chunks you can handle one bite at a time, per the old saw about how to eat an elephant. It’s like the Great Wall of China and the International Space Station. At one point, both were just an idea in someone’s head; but after making extensive plans and breaking the task of their creation down into parts that took thousands of people decades to complete (20, in the case of the Wall), the project became reality. If human beings can create such things, you can certainly use the same method to break down and complete lesser projects.

  3. It must help you prioritize. A decent productivity plan doesn’t treat every task as equal. That’s not reality. It helps you split them into categories of urgency, allowing you to focus on the things that are crucial or due next, while acting on the rest when you have time.

  4. It must force you to achieve. Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” In a sense, a good productivity system forces you to learn. Remember how you learned your subjects in school? You did it because you had to. Compare this to self-imposed projects, like learning to paint watercolors and speak French. How’s that going for you? It’s easy for self-imposed tasks to get forgotten or pushed aside. But if you put a work task on your to-do list and schedule it, with a firm deadline you can’t miss, you’re likely to put your heart into it, even if it’s something hard or that you’re sick of doing.

  5. It must make your life easier. If your productivity system doesn’t simplify your life, you’re doing it wrong. This is the ultimate result of any good productivity system. Once you have it in place, you can fall back on routine to some extent, just checking occasionally to make sure everything’s still aligned properly.

You may already have a decent productivity system, but there’s a fair chance that, at some point, it’ll need an overhaul. If so, I recommend you test-drive a few before you put all your chips on one, because you’ll probably find yourself invested in it for a while. There may come a time when you need another productivity system, but if it still works for you, I recommend you don’t change it.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland