Post written by Marlon Ribunal.
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[Author’s Note: This is the Third Part of the Series The 3 Fundamental Principles Of Productivity“]


Part I – Rituals

Part II – Systems

Part III – Tools


Part II – Systems

Productivity is very difficult to achieve in the absence of a workable system. You have to have a system that can dictate the workflow of your projects and the underlying tasks. You may not be practicing a mainstream productivity system right now but, whether you agree or not, you are in fact already following a certain kind of a “system” in the guise of your working patterns or arrangements.

The problem with our home-brewed productivity system is that it tends to conform with our habits and not to the natural flow of our environment, which is not bad if only we have total control over our habits. But, of course, there have been so many bad habits that we are yet to break. In other words, any self-invented productivity system tends to fail for the simple reason that we are humans. If we follow a system based on personal habits, we can almost guarantee a failure. One moment you feel like doing a particular task in a particular way, then another moment you’re doing the same task the other way. We cannot trust patterns that are solely based on unpredictable behaviors.

We have a lot of options when it comes to productivity system. We’re going to mention some of them here. Choosing a system that is independent of the terms of our own patterns is truly important. You can always trust a system that does not stand on particular habits but on proven formula. You can still put your trust on your own established system but it is difficult to put out fires when something gets messed up because you cannot easily recognize the demarcation between the cause from the effect. It is never easy to bailout from a problem when you are part of that problem.

Before we can even proceed to choose a system that can work for and with us, we need to identify the following elements:

1. Incoming Tasks

In what manner and how often do we receive these tasks? The Form, frequency and volume of the work are the top concerns of efficiency and productivity. Output expectations are based on these metrics. The system that we pick should be able to handle the load of our work and push it to the next stage as seamlessly as possible. We do not want a system that complicates the handling of the incoming tasks. Managing the inflow of the tasks is the single most important part of the system. Mismanagement of this can cause a great deal of problems as you go through the stages of your work.

2. Workspace

What physical objects does our workspace allow us to have? Do we have enough room for the stuff that the system requires us to have? Your workspace is a critical part of the decision-making. Some systems require certain amount of space to maximize their efficiency. If you think that system X cannot be fully integrated because of space restriction, then it’s not a good idea to force its adoption.

3. Working Habits

Does the system fit your working habits? Is it going to embrace your personality? We were just talking about the importance of separating yourself from the system but it should nonetheless meet our standards. We want our system to have certain objectivity but we also want to be in harmony with it. Although we do not want our system to conform with our habits, we want to be at the level where we’re comfortable with and confident in its implementation.

4. Level Of Responsibility

The CEO of your company has a different set of responsibilities comparing to yours. Most productivity systems address all levels of application but they are more effective at certain levels than the others. If you want the system to adapt to the level of your work, wouldn’t you water down its efficacy? That’s the question to ask if you decide to customize a system to your needs. The key is finding the system that can be readily integrated to what you are doing now without needing to modify aspects of the system.

5. Mode Of Production

Does the system have the capability to track the workflow of your tasks? Is it flexible enough to adjust to your needs? Some systems may not just work efficiently with “fixed type” of work. You may find one system to be more effective than the other on a certain jobs. The system should be able to operate within the description of the job. It is critical that you choose the right system that perfectly deals with what you do and what you need.

6. Can Do Attitude

No perfect productivity system will ever work unless you have a positive attitude toward your work. Commitment and dedication are very important part of any productivity system. Without your genuine involvement, any system can easily fail. The system fails outright if you don’t have the motivation to work. Give your job some love.

Of course, there might be more elements that we need to consider in choosing our productivity system. Having all the elements I have just discussed in mind, let’s take a look at some of the popular productivity systems in the market:

  • The “Getting Things Done” System by David Allen – This is an exhaustive system that deals a lot about everything that has something to do with work. It desires that you attain that “mind like water” state where that perfect productivity is achieved. It’s purpose is for you to have a stress-free productivity. I have mentioned about GTD many times already in this blog; run a search and find them. I think that the whole system is designed to work most effectively in an office setting. I would also want to believe that the system perfectly fits the job of the CEO or any of the higher ups. But of course you can adapt the system to whatever setup you have. That is the beauty of the GTD system. You can easily adopt it because it is principle-based, and therefore quite job agnostic.
  • The Instant Productivity Toolkit by Len Merson – This is the subject of my upcoming book review. I recommend that you pick up this book along with the GTD book. Like the GTD system, the IPT is also job agnostic. The purpose of this system is to make you work in a way that enables you to “recapture your life”. The backbone of this system is the 7 Terminals, which I will discuss in my upcoming book review. This system does not allow you to have a physical inbox tray and todo lists. This system is not a copycat of GTD. The Instant Productivity Toolkit is unique on its own. Get the book and see for yourself.
  • Pomodoro Technique by Franceso Cirillo – This is not an entirely productivity system but it does have productivity as its goal. This is actually a time management technique. If you read the two books about, they tell you that it’s not about time management that we should care about but the tasks at hand. “The technique uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals called ‘pomodoros’ (from the Italian word for ‘tomato’) separated by breaks.”
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey – This is not necessarily a productivity system in the fashion of the GTD and Instant Productivity Toolkit. This books calls for a paradigm shift, “a change in perception and interpretation of how the world works.” The purpose of this book is to affect change from the inside out. And you really, really have to read page by page. After you read this book, you will never look at the world the same way again.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of our “3 Fundamental Principles Of Productivity” series. On the next post, we will discuss about the last and third principle of productivity – Tools.

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