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Des Traynor's 4-Step Prioritised Productivity Guide

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Des Traynor's 4-Step Prioritised Productivity Guide

The Intercom co-founder's guide to stop letting everyone else control _your_ time.
This doc is more than just an article - it’s an interactive guide meant to be copied and customized to your own workflow.
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Everyone wants to be productive, to be efficient. In reality, most people are only in an eight hour workday. And at most 35% can actually claim to make it through the day without distractions.
Productivity is personal, and with every task and purpose minutely scheduled, the systems we create to manage our time are inevitably personal as well. We're always looking for better calendar management, better tool organization, better task analysis, and so on. We want to gain back control over our own time.

This all started with a tweet...

I about making products, specifically how to think about product strategy and how to manage a product once it’s out in the wild. During my writing process, when I'm not thinking of another word for productive, Twitter is often a good place for me to put out ideas and see what others think. I had an observation about productivity systems that led to this (surprisingly popular) tweet:
Between the replies to this tweet and my own interactions as Intercom has scaled, I've witnessed a lot of personal productivity systems up front. Here are a few common themes I've noticed:

Email first

The more connected you are to your team, . The "email first" strategy leverages that connectivity by creating shared knowledge and direct collaboration. Block off the first two hours every day for "doing emails" and only take meetings from 11am onwards. You probably just unblocked tasks for other people.

My stuff first

Some people spend over half of their work days checking and replying to email (, to be exact); it's a slippery slope of productivity. With the "my stuff first strategy," don't look at email at all until you've completed your ToDo items for the day. Working on your ToDo list first ensures you get your most important tasks done before receiving more of them.

Email as to-do

Emailing yourself every time you realise you need to do something is a very common system for productivity. After all, emails, whether they come from yourself or someone else, are essentially an un-curated ToDo list. With filters and other advanced features of your mail provider of choice, email task management can be quite efficient.

Calendar as ToDo

Using your calendar as a ToDo list resonates most with me at the moment. If I need to do something, that thing needs time. Usually more than 5 minutes, so I add it to my calendar and usually it gets done! Again, if you leverage the features most calendars have available, like notifications, you can let others know you're unavailable while carving out specific time to accomplish your goals.

Prioritise your productivity pipeline in 4 steps

These four productivity themes seem to work well enough (or perhaps not, considering the research). But, what about a hybrid model that makes the most of each to optimizes productivity? I've built that hybrid, which I'm testing out as a Coda time management template. Here's the productivity pipeline, as I've envisioned it:

1. Clear your inbox

On average, . Which do you really need to spend time on? Label them to route them to this doc, and archive them away. For everything else, blast it out of your inbox and stay confident you're working on the right things.

2. Re-arrange your calendar

Your calendar is a direct representation of how you spend your time. If a task isn't scheduled, it won't get done. Map every task to a meeting slot and/or create new ones. You may have to bump other meetings to get the time you need to get your tasks done.

3. Run your week

You've done the pre-work. Now go through with your plan. Follow your calendar with confidence that it's aligned to your email and tasks.

4. Reflect

Reflection may not be necessary, but consideration should prove helpful. Each day (or whatever duration makes sense), give yourself space to think about your productivity. Did you spend your time on your top tasks? If not, why? What can you adjust for the next day/week/month?

A Coda doc to bring Prioritised Productivity to life

I'm sharing my template here on the off-chance it'll enable you to control your time. What better time than now?
This doc is an interactive guide, ready for you to copy and use.
on your desktop to get started, then set up and run your own prioritised productivity system.

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Begin with the pre-work: !

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