Over the course of the next number of weeks we’re going to take a look at what it takes to have a great productivity system. We’re going to dig through the whole thing, starting with the assumptions I have made as I’ve built it out. Yes, it’s always a bit of a work in progress, but I’ve been using this system 90% intact for quite a while now. There have only been minor tweaks, mostly in the form of notebooks or pens.

My system may work for you and it may not. It really depends on your needs and the problems you have to solve in your productivity system.
Don’t just jump into my explanations of the system I use. You need to start with the key concepts explained in how to pick a system. If you don’t do that, you’re really just looking at productivity porn and waisting your time.

I don’t want that for you.

In this series we’ll cover:

  • How to Pick a Productivity System
  • How I run a Web Development Business with a paper notebook
  • How Analogue Productivity Forced Me to Deal with Email Differently
  • Why Yearly Goals Suck and What I Do Instead
  • How I Manage Projects that need Collaboration
  • How I Manage the random Digital Bits That Come At Me

Inside each section we go on a deep dive into the system so that you can look at using it or even just grabbing some tips out of it for your own system.

If you’re a member of the site, you’ll be getting access the whole thing as an eBook or PDF in the next 2 weeks. Not a member, get The 8 Week Business Bootcamp now and get a year of membership for free.

Now, let’s move on and look at the key concepts you need understand if you want to build a good productivity system.

What are the Key Parts of a Good Productivity System?

Let’s face it, your life is complex. You’ve got lots of important stuff coming at you every day. Things that matter, like building towers with your children or hanging out with your best friend. On top of the stuff that matters you have so much that seems important, but isn’t. Stuff that doesn’t matter, and in fact sets you back as you put more time into it.

You have lots of items that you need to deal with, and you need a way to address each of them as they’re thrown your way. You need a system that takes some of the decisions out of your life, because decision fatigue is a real thing and it can crush your soul.

Everything is a system because everything contains these three components.

  1. Input – anything that comes into or activates the system
  2. Process – the steps the system performs
  3. Output – the results after doing the steps in the system

I sit here doing research (input) and writing (input) and synthesizing research (process) and typing (process). At the end of this system, you’ll get to read the words (output) of my writing system.

My writing factory is here to benefit you.

What are The Crucial Systems You Have?

The thing is that while everything is a system, most people don’t put much effort into thinking about their systems to make sure that they’re effective.

They just run with what they’ve always done, which was influenced in part by how you were brought up, and what you’ve learned since. Most people don’t measure the effectiveness of the system in accomplishing the things that you find important. Any task done counts as a positive point towards being “productive” because you have never defined what the most important tasks are your life and work.

Maybe you’ve never defined what you find important, so you have no way to measure the effectiveness. You can’t tell if you’re heading in the right direction if everything is possibly the most important thing to you.
That means you need to define the few crucial things that you need to deal with inside your system before you’re ready to start building one to manage your work.

Finding Your Crucial Systems for Better Productivity

Building a good productivity system starts by knowing what you need to deal with. Most people need to deal with:

  • Projects
  • Tasks in Projects
  • Collaboration Tools
  • Email
  • Mail
  • Manage Client or Vendor Relationships
  • Spouse or Child requests for your time

That’s a short list, you may have many more inputs into your
life. Inside each of those inputs, you have many items to deal with.
You may have 5 projects on the go, with 20 tasks inside each project. You may have 300 email messages waiting to be dealt with. You may have Slack open and 32 notifications in your project management tool.

You probably have a list of things to do around the house plus a list of things that your spouse wants you to do for them. Then your kids want you to do a bunch of things with them. They have toys that need fixing, or clothes that need patching and of course they want you to put down whatever you’re doing so they can play with you.

That’s a lot of things to deal with for anyone and without a system to deal with the requests for your time, you’re going to be drowning under the weight of the responsibilities that others have for you.

Which Items Are The Most Important?

Out of all those items, some are more important than others. Your friend may want you to come by and help with something on their house, but your spouse wants some pictures hung. In theory, you want to stay married, so the pictures take priority over the friend obligation.

Some of your emails are from your top clients, so they get priority over prospects which may or may not meet your ideal client criteria.
That means as you look at your list of items, some don’t matter at all. Some might matter, and some are hugely important.

Taking the email example, you need to get back to your current clients quickly. Prospects can wait a week, and random asks maybe never need to get a response.

One issue with inbox zero is that for most people it subtly says that you must respond to everything that comes in with equal weight. That was never the intent, but it has become the practice.

I get random requests to link to some other new blog post that is sort of similar to something I’ve linked to in a post before. I get at least one of these a week and I never respond to them. In fact I usually mark them as spam and never see the follow up emails I know happen.

I could respond “no” but even that often elicits a response trying to convince me, so I cut the no out and never bother with them at all.

I get a bunch of requests for help with the different membership plugins I work with. I respond to some of them, but not all. Some of them get no response or simply get told I’m busy and not taking new work currently.


  1. Stop and write down all the inputs you have coming your way.
  2. Take a minute to write down how you deal with those inputs currently, and any issues that arise from how you currently deal with the inputs.
  3. Write down what your output goals are for the inputs you have. Remember, some inputs don’t matter that much, so your output goals should match that realization.
  4. Now, look at the inputs you have and place a number or star beside the ones that are most important and need to be dealt with more regularity. No you can’t have multiple levels, only the top items and if you have more than three items at the top, something is broken.
  5. Be okay with saying no to the items that aren’t stared. They’re not your priority so no matter how important someone else thinks they are, don’t worry about them.

Photo by: bobsfever