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Several months ago I wrote an article about productivity and time management tools (also called PIMs for “personal information managers”), and I ended that by writing, “the process is the missing piece to using any tool successfully.”

productivity process

photo by Shawn P. Thomas

The most important element of using productivity tools successfully is the “how,” or the productivity process. In my prior article, I referred to this in an analogy, which is that having a great set of clubs does not automatically make you a great golfer.  Think of adopting a good process in terms of having a good golf swing: it’s how you use the clubs that makes the difference. The better your process, the farther your tools will take you in a given work day, and the more productive you will be.

In my decades in the productivity industry, I have created and refined what I call the Empowered Productivity SystemTM.  I chose the word “empowered” because I have come to realize that the secret to peak productivity, really to living the life you want, is regaining and maintaining control, specifically over your attention.  Controlling your attention means that you decide what gets done in your day, rather than just being swept away by all the external forces constantly demanding your attention.  Control is the difference between being proactive and being constantly reactive.  Time management is no longer relevant.  What matters now is attention management.



As you may recall from my earlier article, there are five components that a good PIM should manage well. These can be all in one tool, such as Microsoft Outlook, or in several tools, as long as they work well together. Following are those five components, and some tips on using them inside the framework of a workflow management system, or productivity process.

The Contact section of any tool is primarily a storage place for contact details. Some tasks relate directly to Contacts, such as phone calls or emails, and these should be captured in your Task list. Certain professions, such as sales, may require a more complicated tool, such as a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager), however many people underestimate the Contacts features available in the PIM that they choose.

The important thing to remember about Notes is that they are for reference material. Reference materials are things that do not currently require action.  Notes give you a place to capture ideas, instructions, lists, even project details. But if an item requires action, it belongs on your Task list.

Email is one of the primary culprits of lost productivity among entrepreneurs and professionals. My advice is to set aside one or two times in your day to dispatch your messages. Clear them from your inbox by deleting, filing, or creating a Task rather than letting them accumulate.  Hundreds or thousands of messages piled up in your inbox results in unproductive clutter. It’s more efficient to process email in batches a couple of times per day, than to stop what you’re doing to respond to every message when it arrives in your inbox.

There is a distinct difference between calendar items and task (to-do list) items. A Calendar is a time-based organization tool. Anything that has a strong relationship to time goes on your Calendar. An example of a strong relationship to time is something that is absolutely happening on a certain day (like a birthday), or happening on a certain day and at a certain time (like a customer meeting). It makes perfect sense to organize these items on a Calendar.

You may, however, have many things to do that have a weak relationship to time, meaning that you have some discretion as to when they get done.  They may have a due date at some point in the future, or may have no due date at all, but are still important to complete.  I find it useful to treat these items as Tasks and put them on a list. Your Task list tells you how to spend your time in between your calendar appointments, and is the driving force that enables you to be proactive instead of always reactive.  I suggest that you prioritize your task list by due date, instead of by “A B C” or “High Medium Low.”  You can read more about that here.


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In order to be your most productive, you need a set of tools that matches the complexity of your life, but you also need a good workflow management system; a productivity process for using those tools effectively.  The ideas here are enough to get you started.  To learn more about the Empowered Productivity SystemTM for yourself or your team, call me at 424-226-2872 or email questions at regainyourtime dot com.  Also connect on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for reading!