4 ways to be more productive

Use your diary to plant the seeds of future action. Photo by Calista Tee on Unsplash

Productivity is obviously subjective.  This is proved by the fact that we tend to worry far more about our own productivity than anyone else’s.  We challenge ourselves, but it is a painful holding to account.  Many of us fail, in our own eyes, to ‘get things done’.  It is one of the most common things I hear depressed clients say: ‘I haven’t done enough today’.

To a certain extent, it is an illusion.  I wish I could persuade those clients how little it matters how much they ‘get done’.  But I must work with their subjective worlds, and their value systems; and if it matters to them, then it matters to me.  In helping clients to ‘get things done’, I have most success with the following four tactics…


It sounds so simple.  But it’s really effective.  A depressed client will often be missing the hormonal hit of satisfaction, and you can’t be satisfied if you never finish anything.  Make your tasks very small, and write them on a piece of paper.  Tick them when they are done.  Don’t write too many at once (I suggest three, maximum).  Write down three, tick them off as you do them, then write down another three.


When tidying up your life, the things you tidy up have three destinations.  To give you an example, think of your email in-tray.  If you receive ten emails, maybe three can be disposed of (deleted).  Do that first.  Then, maybe three just need to be stored for future reference.  Do that next, saving them in logical order (I store by person and date, meaning each year I have an alphabetical list of correspondence, with items date-ordered within each name).  Then, with the four remaining items, either act immediately, if it’s quick, or diarise a future action regarding each item, and file it.  Dispose, store, act.


In simple English, this means make sure your action paths don’t go dead or fall flat.  If you write to someone asking for something, then make sure you ask for it in the first sentence, and be specific.  Don’t just describe how unhappy you are and expect the reader to intuit by ESP what you want.  Ask for the action.  And make it SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  Don’t say ‘I’m feeling quite lonely’, or ‘We should meet sometime’; say ‘Let me know today whether you are free to meet on Friday at 2pm for a walk’.  When the walk happens, plan the next one while you’re both there with your diaries.  When doing one stage of a job, diarise when you’ll do the next stage.


Finally, create teams of like-minded people to safeguard your action process.  If you are an athlete, join a program or a club, or find an event to enter.  If you are a writer, join a course or a group, or timetable a performance to give.  If you want a better social life, join a group of like-minded people, or find an event to plan and organise.  Even the most solitary humans have a social side, and actions tied into a social network are much more likely to happen than actions which are not.


When trying to get things done…

  1. Do one thing at a time
  2. Split actions into disposal, store and act (in that order)
  3. In each action, plant the seeds of future action
  4. Wrap your actions into a timetabled group process