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This tool helped me have my most productive week

I was stuck in a pandemic rut, but taking this free quiz helped me get back on track—with a bit of trial and error.

This tool helped me have my most productive week
[Photo: Dan-Cristian Paduret/Unsplash]
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I love to try new productivity hacks. And while I consider myself to be fairly organized, some days are better than others when it comes to getting stuff done. Of course, pandemic worries can challenge even the most productive among us, and when the website Doist offered a free quiz to find the productivity method that is a fit for your personality, I was game to try a new method for staying on track. My old methods weren’t working.

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I took the short quiz, which asks a series of questions about your job, everyday activities, and preferences. For some of the questions, however, I had more than one answer. For example, “When it comes to achieving your goals, what is your #1 biggest challenge right now?” The answers include “procrastination,” “prioritization,” “work-life balance,” “overwhelm,” “focus,” and “over-commitment.” I would have chosen “all of the above.”

What’s nice about the quiz is that it doesn’t require you to enter your email address. You get your result after answering the last question, and I was matched with Systemist, which is for “people who feel overwhelmed with the number of things they need to do.”

Trying a new system

Systemist is a productivity method designed by Amir Salihefendić, founder and CEO of the productivity app Todoist. It’s meant to be used with a digital task manager. It takes big tasks and breaks them down into small actionable steps that you can complete in an hour or less.

The system helps you prioritize and accept that you won’t get everything done. You use dates to identify time-sensitive tasks, and you mark high-impact tasks so you don’t get distracted by “urgent, but not important” or “not urgent, not important, but really easy” tasks on your list. The goal is to get to “to-do list zero” daily.

“You won’t get everything done, but you should still get to an empty to-do list at the end of the day,” the instructions state. “This involves deciding what to do with the leftover tasks—postpone them to another day or simply delete them if you’ve decided they’re no longer important. This keeps your to-do list from snowballing out of control.”

I tried Systemist for a couple of days and while it was designed for people who find David Allen’s Getting Things Done system too time-consuming and complicated, I decided it was still too much for me. I had checked the box that said I use paper and digital tools equally, but I have to admit that digital tools tend to be out of sight, out of mind for me. I know I do better with a paper tool that stares me in the face.

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I had also checked “overwhelm” as being my biggest challenge. After more consideration, I decided that getting sidetracked—aka procrastination—was the root cause of my overwhelm, so I took the quiz again.

Take two

My next result was Eat the Frog. Ah, yes. I remember this method from Brian Tracy’s 2001 book Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. The term “eating the frog first” comes from Mark Twain, who is once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Eat the Frog method for productivity involves doing the hardest or most dreaded item on your to-do list first. Picking the right task to do at the start of the day can make a big difference. Even though I know better, I tend to dive into my day crossing off the easy things first. But this just provides a false sense of accomplishment.

But if you put off your most important tasks until later, you aren’t being productive in the areas that matter. And, in my case, you start them when your energy and focus is depleted. I used Eat the Frog for a week and felt my sense of control return.

Turns out, Eat the Frog is the most popular recommendation from the quiz, says Becky Kane, editor at Doist, the parent company of Todoist. “This is one of the simpler productivity methods,” she says. “We can infer that people are really looking for a straight-forward and no-nonsense strategy that forces them to stop procrastinating and get things done. Starting your morning with a challenge (eating the frog) sets the tone for the rest of the day and builds momentum for what’s next.”

More options

Some of the other productivity methods in the Doist quiz include:

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  • The SMART Method: For people who are in the early phases of a big project and need to strategize before jumping in
  • Time Blocking: For people who find small tasks and interruptions are taking over the whole day or those who have more than one major area of work that they’re responsible for, especially managers
  • Getting Things Done: For people who are feeling overwhelmed with the number of things they are responsible for and need a way organize it all
  • The Medium Method: For people who love the concreteness of pen and paper to-do lists, but have too much to keep track of to rely only on pen and paper
  • Pomodoro: For people who feel like there’s never enough time in the day, but have a tendency to get distracted
  • The Eisenhower Matrix: For people who like graphs, have trouble seeing things in black-and-white, and would rather prioritize on a continuum than stuff tasks into a few categories
  • Objectives and Key Results: For people who are driven by data and need. rigorous way to track goals

I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of all of these productivity methods. I’ll also admit that Eat the Frog does work for me. I had used it in the past, but lost my way.

“Everyone wants to get more done, but productivity isn’t one-size-fits-all,” says Kane. “It’s tempting to borrow workflows from the latest productivity article or copy tactics from people we perceive as successful. However, these methods often aren’t aligned with our personalities or day-to-day challenges. We inevitably stop using them after a week or two. The best productivity method is the one you’ll stick to day-in and day-out.”