8 mins

We Tested 7 Top Productivity Methods So You Don’t Have To

Kanban, Eat that Frog, The Pomodoro Technique... the list goes on. Which work best?
by Caitlin Schiller | Jun 15 2016

Kanban, KonMari, GTD, the Pomodoro Technique. The (check) list goes on and on. If you’ve ever wanted to do more or work better, you’ve probably thought about trying one of the productivity methods above. But where should you start? And what is the best productivity system out there? You could read a bunch of books to find out, or you could just read this list!

7 members of the Blinkist team tried out the top 7 personal productivity methods for you. Here, we tell you how it went, what we learned, and who should try each technique. Give it a skim and find your perfect productivity system now.

The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo tested by Therese

Describe The Pomodoro Technique in one sentence:
Work on tasks in 25 minute-chunks (pomodori) and take a 5-minute break after each finished chunk.

How did it fit into your day?:
I created a “To Do Today” list of the most pressing actions, estimated how many rounds of pomodori each task would need and marked this down with the tomato emoji to keep my spirits high. I downloaded a timer called “Pomodoro One” and quickly got into the rhythm of 25 minutes of focus, 5 minutes break. I paused my pomodoro flow for meetings.

What did you learn?:
A task feels way more manageable if you only have to work on it for 25 minutes at a time, and my brain does way better when it focuses on one thing at a time. It felt unnatural for me to tell my colleagues I couldn’t talk to them as I was working hard on a pomodori. Also, I noticed how hard it is to estimate how long you’ll need for a task, and this is where I see pomodoro being extra beneficial: by learning to judge the time it will take to finish something, you’ll get better at setting appropriate goals for yourself—ones that you can achieve!

To whom would you recommend this method?:
You who have a long list of to-do’s, jump between a gazillion tasks throughout the day, and leave the office asking yourself: “What did I actually accomplish” Also, if you work on large projects that seem to have neither end nor beginning, breaking it up in pomodori will help you make constant progress *high-five!.*

Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy tested by Sarah

Describe Eat That Frog! in one sentence:
Focused on self-motivation and self-reflection, it encourages you to be aware of your work habits and tackle the most impactful tasks on your to-do list first.

How did it fit into your day?:
Tracy’s method is similar to the 80/20 principle—where you to focus on the tasks that will have the most impact (the 20%) rather than other, less important tasks (the 80%). These high-effort and high-impact tasks are what Tracy calls your frogs. I had one big frog softly ribbiting on my desk (an article that I had to write that I had been deftly ignoring) so I took Tracy’s advice and made a prioritized task list, found a quiet, clean workspace (the café across the road from our office), and funneled all of my focus towards getting the article written.

What did you learn?:
I’m no stranger to to-do lists but Tracy’s approach to list-making recommends that you label all tasks on your list from A to Z in accordance to importance. This sounds simple but it really helped me to prioritize my time and clearly identify those fat frogs. Also, oftentimes, getting started on a to-do list is the hardest part; sometimes I make lists just so I don’t have to start doing things. To motivate yourself to get going, Tracy suggests that you visualize how you’ll feel when you’ve digested your frogs. By focusing on this positive feeling, I found approaching the task much easier.

To whom would you recommend this method?:
Anyone tickled by the idea of a holistic approach to being productive. Tracy stresses that the same tactics may not work for the same tasks, so you have to be flexible. He encourages us to consistently examine ourselves and our habits so we can consistently adapt and grow—a positive lesson for us all. Ribbit.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande tested by Tom

Describe The Checklist Manifesto in one sentence:
Turn your work into a series of easy to follow, step-by-step checklists.

How did it fit into your day?:
I took all of my regular roles that involve a series of steps to complete (for example editing blinks & assigning a book to a reader) and turned them into a list of simple stages to complete one after the other.

What did you learn?:
How easy it is to forget a simple step in your work, especially if you’ve done it again and again. By following the steps carefully, I got my work done much faster and with fewer mistakes, which saved me no end of time in redos!.

To whom would you recommend this method?:
Anyone who does important but repeatable work like engineers, surgeons, or editors.

Singletasking by Devora Zack tested by Caitlin

Describe Singletasking in one sentence?
Prioritize what is most important in any particular situation and commit (and re-commit!) fully to that activity.

How did it fit into your day?
I shut off my music, set myself away on Slack, and flipped over my phone. My task was to edit down a beast of a document. Minutes later, I realized I was staring at the to-be-edited document, but not actually reading it. Then I remembered that, in the past, background noise had helped me—specifically, cathedral sounds. This is my jam: thunder, rain, and bells turned up, eerie French whispers turned down. With the cathedral sounds on, I single-tasked my way through the edits and finished in record time.

What did you learn?:
How often I interrupt myself and my seat-mates by exclaiming over things that I find on the internet, asking questions, making proposals, and cracking jokes. I also noted that the task took much less time than I expected, yet the minutes themselves seemed very long. I was sure that at least an hour had passed when it had only been 30 minutes.

To whom would you recommend this method?:
Anyone who wants to experience a time distortion! I’d also really recommend this one for people who work with social media, or do a job that ordinarily “requires” them to distribute their focus across many different platforms. It feels really good (and novel) to focus on just one!

Getting Things Done by David Allen

tested by Robyn

Describe Getting Things Done in one sentence:
Build a productivity system that helps you work on multiple projects at once – and to do so with confidence, clear objectives, and a sense of control.

How did it fit into your day?:
I set up each of my projects with specific tasks in Asana. All the tasks in a project are classified as either a “next action,” “someday maybe” or “waiting for.” This way, I have a clear overview of the tasks I need to do next, tasks that aren’t that important or that I need to do after finishing the ones in “next action,” and things that I am waiting for (meaning I’m waiting for someone else to take action before I proceed). I then give all tasks a due date, which helps me focus on the stuff that I need to get done on this very day.

What did you learn?:
The two most important things are: 1) I finally understood what kept me from getting things done before: I treated projects as tasks and didn’t know where to start. 2) My brain is not a storage tool, but rather a thinking device! I no longer use a lot of my brain capacity to remind me of all the stuff I have to do, but rather write everything down as tasks I can act on.When something new comes up, I don’t even try to remember it—I write it down in Asana and get it done when the time’s right.

To whom would you recommend this method?:
Anyone who works on different independent projects, all of them providing you with various tasks and demanding different approaches to get them done (like students who also work, people who manage manifold projects, working mothers and fathers).

Personal Kanban by Jim Benson & Tonianne DeMaria Barry tested by Emily

Describe Kanban in one sentence:
Visually diagram all your goals and tasks while keeping your work-in-progress to a minimum.

How did it fit into your day?:
I wrote my tasks for the day on post-its and stuck them to a medium-sized white board, divided into READY (work waiting to be done), DOING (i.e. work-in-progress), and DONE (completed tasks). The idea is to move from your backlog of READY into the DOING column, and to keep these works-in-progress to a minimum. Once a task is done, you can move it to the third column, DONE, and at the end of the day, you’ll have an overview of everything that you completed.

What did you learn?:
I find it to be a great relief to write down all of the tasks I have to do, whether it’s with lists or in this case, Kanban “tickets.” It’s important to externalize this information so you’re not carrying it around in your mind and trying to keep track of it there. It’s also great to see tasks as separate entities, not all lumped into one big project. And the minimum work-in-progres part is important to help you focus on getting things done, one by one and not be overwhelmed by all of the other pending tasks. And an added bonus: Kanban helps you to review all of the tasks you completed at the end of the day — not something that I normally focus on!

To whom would you recommend this method?:
Do you LOVE post-its? If you’re someone who likes to diagram ideas on paper or a whiteboard, this is great system to try. It’s very tactile. The one thing I am not sure about is juggling multiple projects and priorities with this system, although the deeper you research the ways of Kanban, the more you can personalize your board to reflect prioritization.

Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk, Matthew Rudy, and Tom Bartow tested by Melissa

Describe Organize Tomorrow Today in one sentence:
Create a ritual of one positive habit you want to adopt in your life and commit to it!

How did it fit into your day?
Because I know an early start positively influences my day, I decided to make early rising my ritual. I woke up every day early enough not only to prepare myself to hit the office but to sit down, listen to music, have my coffee and read for half an hour.

What did you learn?
There is something therapeutic about starting the day, every single one, just the way you like to. Of course there are days when you want to be lazy, but that’s not how rituals work. And my week turned out to be great. I found myself to be able to keep a positive mood and my focused state helped me finish a lot by lunch time. I had a productive work week and finished reading my book!

To whom would you recommend this method?
I recommend this book to anyone who is hungry to do and learn more but can never seem to find enough time.

Caitlin profile pic 300x300
Caitlin Schiller

Caitlin is Editor-in-Chief of Blinkist Magazine and general word wrangler at Blinkist. She’s been writing for digital – agency side and freelance – for more than a decade. Caitlin studied English and Spanish literature and has lived in a handful of countries, where she’s eaten all the delicious things and picked up odd lexical delights.

Caitlin’s recommended read is Just Listen by Mark Goulston

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