An open A4 paper diary. There is nothing written in any of the days.

Setting Up a Productivity System


This post was written before I fully understood landscape of neurodiversity.

My earlier posts on a productivity system are still relevant. The system works well for autistics and for people with ADHD who need a structure.

In previous posts, we’ve looked at the benefits of a personal productivity system. We’ve also looked at the three main elements of that system. It’s now time to get your calendar and task manager working for you.

Put aside some time to work purely on setting up your systems. I recommend a full morning or afternoon. You will get a great return on this investment in the weeks ahead.

Priming Your Calendar

Does your calendar have all your appointments in it? If you’re only concerned with work or home rather than both, does this calendar have a clear boundary with any other one you use? If you’re only concerned with personal productivity at work for example, set up your start and finish times.

Add any holidays, early finishes, GP appointments, and overtime to your work calendar. At this early stage only scan a few weeks ahead to add anything that’s relevant.

If you have opted to use a digital calendar, make sure it’s accessible on all the devices you want to use it on e.g., laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet. If your calendar is purely cloud-based and only accessible through a browser, then make sure you have the links in an easily accessible place in all your device browsers.

Starting Up Your Task Manager

Set up one list for work and one list for home. If you’re only concerned with one or the other, then you only need one list at this stage. You will be creating other lists later to make managing your tasks simpler, but for now, everything goes into either the home or the work list. Gather and import all your existing lists into these task manager lists.

Some common places for existing tasks:

  • Notebooks or Day Books. Tasks are often buried in notes we’ve taken.
  • Meeting minutes. Has any task been assigned to you from a meeting?
  • Post-It notes or scrap paper notes.
  • In your head.

Getting tasks out of your head is a cornerstone of productivity systems. Your brain can’t show you all the things you have committed to at the right time. We all forget things!

Conversely, your brain will remind you of all the things you’ve still got to do, but usually at the wrong time! This leads to unnecessary stress and distraction.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Make sure you capture all the information you need in your task description. Don’t get distracted by trying to complete urgent tasks in the middle of setting up your system. Add the task to your list and make a note of them on a separate sheet of paper which you will look at at the end of this gathering session.

Do not try prioritising tasks as you go. I will write about natural prioritisation later, but in simple terms, you won’t know priorities until you can see all your commitments

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you gather all your commitments in one calendar and task manager. If your task list gets depressingly long, or overwhelming, take a moment to reflect. You have now got things in view; this is the first step in managing your workload. Life gets easier from here on in. You’ve got this.

I’ll write more about how you break down your large task list into more manageable lists later.

It is now time to check that separate piece of paper for any urgent tasks, is there anything there that is going to bite you today?


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