4 Productivity Systems to Fuel Your Business

By Kate Loyola | Last Updated: November 17, 2017

Staying productive can be a huge challenge when you’re running your own business. You are your own boss: Nobody hands you a task list or a calendar of deadlines, and you don’t have to answer to anybody else if those tasks stay unfinished.

Sure, the excitement of a new business can be good motivation, but success isn’t a sprint. You need to be able to put in the work, day in and day out. If your online business is going to succeed, then you need reliable ways to keep yourself going.

There’s no one system that works for everyone, though. Building an effective productivity toolset hinges on finding techniques that fit your work style and personality. If you haven’t found a method that works for you, here are four to consider.

Kanban

The word kanban comes from the Japanese for “card” or “sign,” and it sums up this visuals-oriented technique pretty well. Kanban takes the “just-in-time” manufacturing approach used by Toyota engineers and applies it to your everyday tasks and projects.

Here’s how it works:

Your kanban systems lives on a board (digital or otherwise) that’s divided into different columns corresponding to the stages of your workflow. These columns help you visualize both:

  • Overall progress through your task list / project
  • How many tasks are in progress or queued up

The number of columns and categories on your board depends entirely on you. If you’re using the method for your general task list, your columns can be as simple as “To-Do”/”Doing”/”Done.” On the other hand, if you’re focusing on a project like creating an app, your columns can range from “Development” to “Testing”/”Deployment”, with sub-columns for tasks that are ongoing and ones to be started.

You then write each of your tasks on a card or sticky note and place it in the applicable section of your kanban board. Columns for ongoing work can take a limited number of cards. This is the heart of kanban. By limiting the tasks you have in progress at any one time, the system keeps you from tackling too much or spreading yourself too thin. You’re forced to focus and finish the tasks in your “work in progress” column before pulling new cards in.

Why use kanban?

Kanban’s benefits lie in its ability to give you a “big picture” look at your project or workflow. You can view tasks in relation to each other, so prioritization and scheduling get easier. By breaking your project or workflow down into discrete chunks and stages/categories, you can also identify any bottlenecks that could be slowing you down–if not halting your progress completely.

Autofocus

If maintaining a kanban system sounds too involved for you, consider the Autofocus method instead. Created by personal organization author Mark Forster, Autofocus is a quick and simple method that strips away many of the demands that often come with other productivity techniques. As Forster writes, Autofocus is designed so that “the minimum of time should be spent on the system itself, and the maximum on doing the tasks.”

Here’s how it works:

Autofocus uses one “master list” for all of your tasks. You divide it into three categories:

  • New
  • Recurring
  • Unfinished

You start by writing down a batch of 10-20 tasks under the “New” category. Then you close that list by drawing a line under it; any additional tasks that come up will go under the line as part of a new batch.

Once you’ve got your tasks written down, it’s time to jump into Autofocus mode:

  • Go through your first batch of tasks in order, one by one.
  • If you can’t do a task yet, skip it and move to the next item.
  • If you finish a task completely, cross it off the list.
  • If an item is a recurring task, enter it in the “Recurring” category. If you’ve started a task but haven’t finished it yet, re-enter it under the “Unfinished” category.
  • Once you hit the end of your first batch, return to the top of the list and repeat the process.

When you finish the first batch of tasks, or you hit a point where you can’t finish the remaining items in that batch, then it’s time to move to the next batch. You repeat the Autofocus process for that batch, as well. When you can’t work on any of the remaining batches under “New,” you then move on to the “Recurring” category using the same process, and then to the “Unfinished” list as well.

Why use Autofocus?

Autofocus has three main advantages:

  1. It keeps you focused on one task at a time, helping you work more efficiently.
  2. It gives you a clear sequence of tasks, so you don’t waste time or momentum trying to decide what to do next.
  3. It’s a low-fuss task management system.

If you have a variety of tasks that don’t quite fit within a clear set of categories or process stages, the Autofocus “master list” could be just what you need. The simplicity of having three basic categories cuts down the time you might otherwise spend trying to catalog your tasks or maintaining your system in the long run.

Pomodoro

One of the older pillars of the productivity scene, the Pomodoro technique was developed in the 1980s by developer Francesco Cirillo. Compared to kanban and Autofocus, it’s less of a management system and more of a simple method to structure your time for each task. Pomodoro uses a cycle of work intervals (called “pomodoro”) and short breaks to help you get your work done without burning out.

Here’s how it works:

You start by selecting the task you want to work on. Then, you set a timer for 25 minutes (or however long your preferred duration is). For the whole interval, you work on your chosen task uninterrupted. If you do stop or get distracted, you must reset the interval.

Once the interval ends, you can then take a short, 5-minute break (or, again, however long your preferred duration is). After every four work intervals, you take a longer break of around 15 minutes. You repeat the pomodoro cycle until you finish the task.

Why use Pomodoro?

You can only use the Pomodoro method on one task at a time, so it forces you to “unitask” and devote all of your attention to your chosen task. Thanks to the work intervals, that task gets divided into manageable and less daunting chunks, so it’s easier to get yourself to start. Since the intervals are so short, you’re less likely to suffer a decline in energy or motivation before you can take a break. The breaks themselves keep you refreshed and, ideally, productive, so work doesn’t become an endless slog.

Flowtime

Flowtime uses a similar “unitasking” approach as the Pomodoro technique, but it does away with the set interval and break durations entirely. Consider it Pomodoro’s flexible cousin. Flowtime takes its name from that mental state commonly known as “flow,” when you’re immersed in a task and working on it at full capacity. It’s designed to keep you on-task without disrupting your “flow state” as, say, the structured Pomodoro cycle of timed breaks and work intervals might.

Here’s how it works:

You start by choosing one task that you want to work on. You log your start time (by hand or through a digital record) and start working. When you need to take a break, you do so, logging your stop time. Then, you set a timer for your chosen duration. Record the number of minutes you’ve worked, and take your break.

Unlike the Pomodoro technique, you can take as long or as short a break as you need; you just need to make sure you don’t overstretch them. As with the Pomodoro method, though, Flowtime is cyclical: you repeat the process until you finish the task.

Why use Flowtime?

Flowtime alleviates the pressure of working with a set timer. If you find yourself getting “into the zone” as you work, for example, forced breaks every 25 minutes can be jarring–your timer method could disrupt your productivity rather than encourage it. Flowtime lets you set your own pace while still building in break periods, so you can tackle one task for as long as you need to.

The Bottom Line

Running an online business is a marathon, and it can be difficult to give 100% all the time. Managing both your time and your priorities can help you stay motivated and productive. There are tons of productivity techniques and systems floating around out there, but these 4 are relatively simple methods to help you ease into the process of finding your own unique system.

Try them out sometime, and don’t hesitate to modify them if that will help them fit into your workflow better. Remember, everybody works differently – and while everyone has their favorites, the best system is the one that works for you.