5 Steps to Workplace Productivity

My name is Jason, and I’m a productivity junkie…


As the Director of Special Projects here at Learn iT, I have to be. On any given day, I may contribute my efforts to a number of different initiatives or projects – all in various stages and with escalating degrees of priority. (At my organization, projects are either due at the end of the week, the end of the day, or an hour ago.)

As a result, I need a plan to get my work accomplished as it comes in. Trial and error coupled with research led me to a 5-Step process that not only works for me as a focusing technique, but also influences how I structure my workday.

Perhaps my process may lead to some strategies and tools that might work for you. You know the drill – take what you need, and leave the rest…


My day starts and ends with my Workflowy –a web application that serves as an outlining tool. But it’s actually so much more. Workflowy has become my work “brain”.

Every project task I’m assigned gets added to my Workflowy, where I then deconstruct it into more manageable mini-tasks. The more I deconstruct, the better I am able to estimate the effort needed to complete them. Then, I can plan accordingly.

I’ve only been using Workflowy for about six months now – I switched from using the Franklin-Covey Planning System. I only wish I had known of Workflowy earlier. Try it – you’ll get hooked!

I pick out ONE task that I need to focus on.

Usually this is a task that I had tagged in my Workflowy as either a “high priority”, or “in progress”— and I’ve determined that I can make measureable progress on it if I focus 20 minutes on it. But more on that later...


When I think that it would make sense to apply a critical thinking strategy to my task, I use the Double Entry Aha! Method tool. We also use this tool in our Critical Thinking class.

I fold a sheet of paper in half, and write the task or issue at the top. I then set my timer to 3 minutes, and start writing everything I know (or need to know) about the task on the left side of the page.

Every time a thought pops into my head that doesn’t have to anything to do with the task, I write it on the right side of the page – then I quickly go back to brainstorming about the job at hand.

I do this for exactly 3 minutes. Personally, I’ve found that after 3 minutes I experience diminishing returns and the tool stops being useful.

When I’m finished, I usually have between 7-15 good insights (ahas!) about the task – things I may not have realized had I just dove into the work. Conversely, my “right page” list often ends up being tasks I can add to my Workflowy in their respective professional or personal “buckets”.

D.E.A.M. allows me the opportunity to capture everything that goes through my brain during a focused time – and the results can be pretty powerful.

Speaking of timing…

I use a web timer I found at Onlineclock.net

This is more like a mental trick that works for me. When I focus my energy on the actual task (like writing this article, for example), I know that I CAN’T work for more than 20 minutes straight, uninterrupted. I’ll lose focus and efficiency.

Along those lines – I also know that I CAN go for 20 minutes straight – and that I can get a lot done in those 20 minutes.

Hence the timer. It represents a deal with myself. After a 20 minute session, I’ll take a minute or two to check email, Facebook, my Workflowy, etc.

And then I’ll set the timer to 20 minutes again.


In conjunction with the timer, I’ve also found that listening to music without lyrics while working is incredibly beneficial. I imagine that music in general has this effect on most people – but in my case, music with lyrics tends to distract me.

Buddhist music in particular helps me clear my mind and focus on the task at hand. I have a free account with iHeartRadio with a Tianjin Buddhist Music Ensemble station. It might sound crazy, but try it – you may be surprised by the increase in your attention and focus.

Jazz (Miles Davis and John Coltrane in particular) helps me block out some of the other distractions here in the office. I listen to jazz when I know I’m working on something that is going to take me multiple 20 minute segments, as the Buddhist music does get old after a while.

And sometimes, when my work is more redundant, or if it’s later in the afternoon, I listen to my hip hop and alternative stations.

So there you have it: My 5 step plan that I use to maximize my effectiveness while I work.

To recap:

  1. I open my Workflowy,
  2. I pick one item on it that I want to focus on,
  3. I use the D.E.A.M. Tool,
  4. Then I set my timer to 20 minutes and I...
  5. Slap my headphones on!

The result – I get my tasks accomplished.

Now it’s your turn. What tips or tricks do you have?