Soft Skills Insights

We unpack behavior science, habit research, and academic research to provide practical insight into how to upgrade your people's critical thinking, communication, people management, and time management skills

The Key to Becoming Productive Lies in These 7 Systems

time management Aug 04, 2022
The Key to Becoming Productive Lies in These 7 Systems

One of the most common questions we get from professionals looking to become more productive is: 

What is the one thing I can do to dramatically increase my productivity?

This is a natural question because of the ever-abounding proliferation of content promising to make us more productive – but the question exposes a misconception about how we become more productive. Starting one action or signing up for one app won’t dramatically change your productivity, though both can help.

How then do you become more productive without sinking 6 years into a PhD in workplace productivity or spending your nights and weekends reading business publications? 

We asked ourselves that question a year ago after almost 4 years of researching productivity. We had developed a database of 150 behaviors that research (often peer-reviewed) showed saves the average professional time.

But even 150 behaviors were way too much for the average person to wrap their head around – and notably, it didn’t tell them where to start. So we developed a 150-question diagnostic with the goal of helping people determine where to start.

But that was still too much work for most. 

Then we had a generative moment. We connected the reading we were doing on habits from James Clear with the teaching we were doing on synthesis in our Critical Thinking Course.

In Atomic Habits, James makes the following point:

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

In his article, “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead,” he says: “I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

To make progress on productivity, systems are the key because systems enable you to “habify” how you do work. When the way you do your work becomes a habit, you move up the experience curve, getting the same work done in less time – and you save time because you don’t have to think about how to do your work.  

What are systems?

James Clear says systems are “the collection of daily habits that will get you” to your goals. We expand on this, proposing 3 components of a strong system:

  1. Your behaviors (i.e., this is our version of James’ “collection of daily habits”)
  2. The technology and tools you use
  3. Team protocols (i.e., norms that govern your interactions with those you work)

As we went through the 4Cs of mind-mapping we describe in our teachings on Phase 2 of our Critical Thinking Course, we discovered that our database of 150 behaviors fit into 7 systems that most professionals need.

Productivity’s 7 Systems

Here are the 7 systems most professionals – especially information workers – need today:

  1. Email/communications management system
  2. Task management system
  3. Calendar management system
  4. Project/process management system
  5. Team management system
  6. Knowledge and information management system
  7. Clients and prospects management system

Most professionals manage all 7 of these aspects of their work every day – but most have not intentionally developed systems for how they manage them based on an understanding of what the research says are the most effective behaviors and protocols in each area. Instead, most have come to their systems either by intuition or mimicking others in their work environment. 

They believe their systems are highly productive because they do great work and otherwise perform well. But many are effective in spite of their systems, rather than because of them – putting in extra hours at night or on the weekends to compensate for average productivity levels. 

If you want to become more productive, intentionally develop all 3 components of these 7 systems. 

The Goals of Productivity’s 7 Systems

To help you get started, here are the highest priority goals of each system (not a comprehensive list of goals).

  1. Email/communications: Minimize time spent on “tactical” communication and minimize switching costs
  2. Tasks: Keep track of everything you have to do and help you make quick decisions about what to do when
  3. Calendar: Set aside enough time for the right tasks and spend the right time on the right work
  4. Project/process: Maintain clarity of roles & timelines across a team and deliver high-quality deliverables on time
  5. Knowledge and information: Capture all information that will be needed later in such a way that it is easily accessible, and combine information so it increases learning and insight generation
  6. Team: Ensure all team members have the right amount of work, provide a good experience for team members, advance the development of each team member, and enable team members to work together effectively
  7. Clients and prospects: Win new clients, deliver significant value to clients, and make clients feel cared for

The point of these 7 systems is to simplify your pursuit of greater productivity. Instead of searching for the next isolated tip, start by auditing your existing systems.

  • What are your behaviors?
  • What technologies are you using?
  • What protocols (explicit or implicit) are you operating by in your teams?

Once you have a handle on your existing systems, you can begin to refine them. 

If you have a team or group at your company that you think could benefit from a comprehensive training on these 7 systems, email us about our corporate programs. 

We’ll be releasing an online course for individuals in the coming weeks. Sign up here if you’d like to be notified when it is live.


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