I have a lot more to write here, in more detail, but I have needed to describe this concept enough times that it’s valuable to get the bare minimum out there.

I’ve gone through a fair number of productivity frameworks in my life, and I’ve read a fair number of the books at this point. So often it feels like the people writing the books are solving their problems and their clients’ problems, but their clients often have commonalities. As such, productivity books have an overlapping set of problems but trying to figure out what works for you comes down to trying to find which book comes closest to your use case.

I think we can do better with a Lego-block approach to productivity management. If you can dissect the problems of productivity management to a set of classifications, you can combine a set of approaches that make sense for your use case rather than wholesale attempting to adopt a program that may or may not fit your use case.

For example, getting things done is great for people with many projects, but it is truly overkill for people who have two or three work projects at any given time. For someone with low focus, a tool like autofocus is fantastic. I have recommended it to many midlevel engineers.

However, my focus is largely on programmers because those are the people I have coached most often. As such, I take for granted that the people I work with can break a larger problem into smaller steps, something that people in other disciplines may not have formal training on. As such, some people may need more focus on a system that coaches those types of behaviors. This is but one example of the need for a building block approach.

However, to get to these building blocks, we need to first lay down a set of assumptions on which we rest. What are the set of values that all productivity management systems seem to share?

  • People, in their natural state, cannot hold everything expected of them in our heads. If we try, we will either forget tasks and we will be distracted by the stress of other tasks while we are trying to focus on one behavior. We need some way to offload that into a system that we trust, a form of cognitive offloading.
  • People cannot multitask. At best, we can perform quick task switching, and this will impede our performance. We need to optimize our days such that we can dedicate our time to one task at a time to be most effective.
  • We are often asked to do far more than we can acheive at one time. To be effective, we need a system that can help clarify our goals.
  • We cannot hold the whole of many problems in our head at the same time, so we need a structured way to break problems down.
  • Humans are all bad at focusing. Many of us can use a way to help us trick ourselves into that kind of focus.

With that, we can break our building blocks into these. To use this “system,” identify the problems you have today and look at the most pressing problem for you to attack first. Then, start to build a habit around that portion of your productivity management system. You can use many of the tricks behind Atomic Habits to consider integrating them into your system.

The building blocks I have identified are:

  • Time management - How do I organize my day?
  • Activity management - What are the right things to work on?
  • Capacity management - How many things can I plan at once?
  • Project management - How do I break down my tasks into manageable sizes?
  • Task management - How do I focus on an individual task, and what do I do with them?
  • Energy management: How do I use my most productive time for the valuable things, and how do I make sure I don’t overextend myself?
  • Knowledge management: How do I organize what I’ve learned so that I don’t lose time to trying to search for it in complex projects?
  • Habit management -how do I stay on track with the habits I want to adopt or have adopted?
  • Vision/goal management - what is my north star? What am I working toward and how do I get there?

Future work will start breaking down these building blocks and help identify sample patterns that others have written about.