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This chapter is from the book Staying on task

Staying on task

Learning new skills is not just about acquiring information, but also about putting it to use. As your knowledge grows, several things happen: while you start to gain mastery over some subjects, you also see the areas in which you need to gain further material and know-how. How do you keep track of the moving parts of everything that you have on your “To Do” list to learn in order to advance to the next steps?

Have no fear. Instituting a system of prioritizing and ways of managing your tasks can greatly facilitate the process.

Productivity systems

Most of us can manage to accomplish tasks fairly successfully. However, you may have fallen prey to times when old habits of procrastination or paralysis from not knowing the next step prevented you from reaching your ultimate goals. When you have a lot that you are working towards achieving either within a given period of time or long-term, putting a productivity system in place (that you actually practice) will help you to reach your goals.

It may surprise you, but productivity is a skill—a mix of approaches and habits for dealing with time, attention and tasks. Like any skill, productivity needs to be learned, developed and honed in order to be performed well.

Productivity systems are useful as a way to learn and instill new habits and break old tendencies that thwart productivity. There are many productivity systems out there, but some of the ones that people in the web community swear by are as follows:

In the absence of a set productivity system, here are some tips for increasing your productivity:

  • Know your working habits.
  • Know your natural cycles.
  • Understand the basics of how most productivity systems work and make an effort to incorporate some of those habits into your life.
  • Most of the systems have a process that resembles these steps: Dump everything in your head, organize your ideas, break ideas down into actions with action verbs, prioritize actions, make realistic lists of the actions, executive the lists but stay flexible to the unexpected.
  • Aim for simplicity.

Task managers and calendars

Once you have decided on your system, you need a way to keep track of your tasks. Much like the option of saving any notes you take to the cloud or staying with writing them down on paper, you have the option of using an online task manager or keeping track of them in a written format. has an excellent (if not a little overwhelming) list of some of the best task managers available online to help you get things done. The link is listed in the Chapter 3 Recommended readings at Some popular applications include Things (Mac only), Google Tasks, and Remember the Milk, but there are many, many others that you may find more useful.

Where the first part of productivity is about learning new habits to be better able to manage your tasks, another part is about better managing your time. You can best get a handle on accurately controlling the slots of time in your days with a good calendar. Google Calendar is one of the best, and most easily accessible options. You can even customize it and share with others. As with everything, some people—even web folk—prefer a printed calendar or days and times written in their notebooks as their low-tech calendar.

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