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Productivity Systems to help you get more done

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Discover how productivity systems like Getting Things Done, timeboxing, and Pomodoro can help you get more done.

The irony of technology is that it’s provided us with tools to vastly improve our productivity and even more distractions that take us away from our work. Perhaps that’s why the Internet age hasn’t seemed to increase economic productivity.

Getting as much done as quickly as possible is imperative for founders and business owners. 

That's where productivity systems come in. These methodologies, ranging from time-blocking and the Pomodoro Technique to Getting Things Done (GTD), transform chaos into order, boosting our ability to manage tasks and get more done quickly.

But with so many systems and tools available, how do you choose the right one? This blog post dives into three popular productivity systems, the tools that support them, and the basics of how they work.

The Science of Productivity

Psychological research highlights the importance of motivation, goal setting, and cognitive processes such as attention and memory in shaping productivity. Theories like the Time Management Matrix, developed by Stephen Covey, categorize tasks by urgency and importance, guiding us to prioritize effectively. Furthermore, the concept of flow, introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, underscores the significance of immersing oneself in tasks to the point of losing track of time, which can significantly enhance performance and satisfaction. By leveraging these insights, productivity systems help us do more and do what matters most efficiently and sustainably.

You’ll notice a theme with these productivity systems: planning and reducing the brain load of deciding what to work on throughout your day is crucial. Each decision we make takes energy, and having to decide “what should I work on next” several times throughout the day will wear on you. It also takes you out of flow, which we’re all trying to achieve with our productivity systems.

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done (GTD) is one of the most popular productivity systems. Developed by David Allen, the primary tenet of GTD is having a repository for all the things you need to do to get them out of your mind and into your system. This allows you to free up brain space and reduce stress, knowing everything you need to do is in one place.

GTD involves a workflow that includes putting things into buckets, such as an inbox for new items, a trash can for items you won’t do, a filing system/series of lists, and a calendar.

The process looks like a task arises, perhaps during a meeting or in the shower. If that's your preference, you immediately file this task in an inbox - this could be a software tool or on paper. You triage the new items in your inbox when you plan each day. If something is not actionable, you put it in the trash or the someday/maybe category. If you can do it in less than two minutes, do it immediately. Everything else you drop into categorized lists. Then, when you start working on a project, you can go to the relevant list with all your tasks and work your way through them rather than spending time throughout the day figuring out what to do next.

Learn more about GTD and software tools that enable this process at the official website.

Timeboxing (aka time blocking)

My favorite productivity system is timeboxing. The idea behind this method is to plan your work in time chunks on your calendar. I slot my tasks into my calendar between breaks and meetings, so I always know what to do next. This system also involves planning. I plan my week out in advance, time-blocking tasks throughout the week. Each day, I recalibrate to account for things I didn’t get to the day before or new, essential tasks that came up during the week.

Another benefit of timeboxing is that it allows you to set a rough time frame for your willingness to work on a task. Often, our work fills the time available. With timeboxing, this task should only take 30 minutes, and having the time slot on your calendar encourages you to complete it in the allotted time.

I liked timeboxing so much that I built timeboxing software in my prior life. I use Akiflow, which integrates with all my tools - email, Trello, calendar, Slack - and makes it easy to bring all my tasks into one place and drag and drop them onto my calendar. They even have a daily planning feature.


Pomodoro was the first productivity system I dabbled with when I started my career. The idea behind Pomodoro is to set a timer for 25 minutes to focus on completing one task. At the end of 25 minutes, you take a five-minute break. This allows your brain to rest and to spend your focus time as productively as possible.

I still use Pomodoro to some extent, but I found the 25/5 ratio too short. After reading an article that the most productive people tend to work on this type of cycle, I've since amended it to 52 minutes, followed by 17-minute breaks.

My favorite tool for this is Flow Timer for Mac. It allows you to set customer timers, and I can control it using Raycast.

Summarizing productivity systems

The number one goal of productivity systems is flow - helping you get into a state where work happens quickly and time all but disappears. Planning your work and sticking to a system enables you to achieve flow, letting you finish more in a shorter time.

There are many other productivity systems besides GTD, timeboxing, and Pomodoro, but these are a good starting point on your productivity journey.

Matthew Johnson

Published on

February 9, 2024