M. Willis Monroe

Productivity: A List

I started this blog post with the supposition that our relentless search for productivity was still in full swing.  It seems there is no end to the blog posts, magazine articles, and general advice about how to focus and “get things done.”  I know that I’ve certainly been a consumer of probably a large percentage of what’s been written about staying productive and on-task.  I put a couple of terms into Google to look for the overall popularity of searches and was surprised to find that it was not as I had assumed:

This Google Trend graph shows the slow decline in searches for productivity and the classic book Getting Things Done.  As an aside, it’s interesting to note that there are generally two peaks in each year, once the rises with the new year and generally peaks around March.  The second, rises at the end of the summer and peaks in October.  Are we in a post-productive state.  Or, has everyone found what they’re looking for, or rather things that actually work for them.  One of the classic overall tips for productivity has to do with not blindly following a top ten list, but finding the techniques that work for you and your particular style.  To that end I thought I’d list three things that seem to have improved my productivity:


  • The Pomodoro Technique: This is a well-known time-management technique where you work a certain number of minutes on, followed by a shorter number off, in cycles with a longer break after a certain number.  There are a wider range of apps, programs, tools available to help guide you while working.  I use a small plugin for Gnome Shell which sits at the top of the screen and counts down, alerting me when the time has finished on a certain segment.  I use this quite a bit when I’m having troubling concentrating on a particular task.  Interestingly, I often don’t even bother to take the breaks (even though it encourages it), just the act of starting the timer is enough to keep me focused for a couple of hours as long as its running in the background.
  • Standing Desk (picture above): I recently purchased an _Upstanding Desk _and installed it on my table in the office.  What I like about this particular desk is the modularity of it.  The ability to move the various shelves around allows me to changing work habits over time if something seems to be better for my own posture (I recently move the top shelf higher to allow the laptop and external screen to sit together better).  I often will read articles, books, even sometimes websites sitting on a couch but stand when I have to compose e-mails or write.  Moving between the two is also a nice way to stretch and interrupt the workflow.
  • RememberTheMilk: Most people have some sort of to-do list system, either a piece of paper or a dedicate program.  I struggled to find one that worked well for me for a while.  I read all the comparisons and tested out various different ones, finally settling on one of the oldest sites out there.  Initially, I was a bit disappointed that they still had not added sub-tasks to their system (something I find very useful for larger projects).  I e-mailed to ask, and was invited to try to Beta-version, which I’m very happy with.  I’m not sure what can be shared publicly about how it works, suffice to say it’s a huge improvement.  My only concern is that they work quickly and efficiently to make sure that the external tools, apps, etc… work with the new version as soon as possible.  I find that I often use RTM for tasks that need to get done that day as a way of reminding me of their existence.  On occasion I’ll plot out larger tasks with sub-tasks and due dates to schedule work in the future as well.

These three things are what has arisen from too much time spent reading about how to improve productivity.  It’s kind of fitting that they all function in different ways and on different platforms.  The Pomodoro Technique is independent of a computer and works to manage the time spent doing things.  The standing desk serves as a locale for getting work done.  And finally RTM, organizes and reminds me of tasks which need to happen.  There is no real duplication between the three and they all serve their purpose efficiently.  Which I guess is the end goal for any system of productivity.  I guess that’s the take-away from all of this, you need to find the productivity tips, techniques, and tools, which function best together in the way in which you work best.