Basics of Productivity: The Components

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Every productivity system, from the earliest paper systems to Getting Things Done, have a few things in common. In our Basics of Productivity continuation, today we will look at those common components and what they do.


This can be called a “planner” or “schedule” or “hard landscape” but what it boils down to is a calendar, plain and simple. It is where you record the timed commitments you have made.

These commitments can be with other people (“Dentist, 8:30 – 9:30″), a place you have to be (“Work 7-9″) or even to yourself (“work on J proposal, 2-4″). What these commitments have in common is that you have said you will be there, and will make a good effort to follow through.

The last type, appointments with yourself, work with different success with different people. They have never worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

The style of your calendar is going to reflect how appointment-driven you are. For someone like me, with maybe one or two things a day, a month calendar with large blocks or a weekly calendar are best. If your day is structured in meetings, you will need something more detailed.

Task List

The task list could be called the “to-do list”, the “next action list” or the “commitment list”. All it is, really, is a list of things you have committed yourself to do, but without a specific time.

The task list may be prioritized, or placed in quadrants, or organized by where you can perform the action, but the contents are still the same.

The task list is the place that most people equate with productivity, but it does not stand alone in the system, and must be influenced by the calendar and the plan.

The task list is generally the thing that gives people the most trouble, which has spawned methods like Do It Tomorrow, Super Focus and The Now Habit as ways to get through the lists.


The plan is where you decide what you should be doing. Most systems talk about planning, calling it an “overview” or “weekly review”. But its function is simply to make sure you are doing the right stuff.

Without the plan, you could be getting a lot of stuff done, but wondering why you never make progress on your projects. Or you could be working on things that don’t fit your goals.

Unfortunately, I think the planning aspect is the one that gets skipped the most often. After all, it is much easier to just look at a calendar, or tick things off on a task list. But the plan is the one thing that will keep you moving in the right direction. Without it you are simply moving.


If you pick up any paper planner, there is going to be a spot somewhere in it for phone numbers. There will probably also be a spot for making lists of gift ideas, birthdays and URLs.

This material is simply reference material, and the thought is that if you have the information you need to accomplish small things at hand, you will be more efficient in getting things accomplished. Think of it this way: if you need to call John Smith, you will get the task done much faster if you have his phone number at your fingertips, rather than having to call someone else to get the number.

Some methodologies call for a complete system to manage your reference material. My thought is to have what you need frequently, but no more, where you can access it when you will need it.

Future List

The last part of every system is some place to capture future items. This might be called a “someday/maybe list”, a “dreams list” or a “tickler”. It is a list of things you are going to do someday, but that you don’t need to think about right now.

This sort of list is important simply because you don’t want to lose track of good ideas or possible avenues to pursue. Inspiration can hit at the most maddening times, and it is best to have a place to park information. And a place you can find things again is the best.

These the main areas of every productivity methodology and system. In future articles in the series, we will look at each one in turn, along with the ways you can implement them.

Photo byRogueSun Media



  1. Timo Kiander says


    Oftentimes we forget the basics but it’s great, that we get reminded of these every once in a while :)


    • LJ Earnest says

      I like going back to the basics from time to time, because I often lose sight of why I started to do something a particular way. When I go back, I find that I question my assumptions and often can make things work better. After all, a static system won’t keep up in a dynamic environment very well!