Productivity Basics

Here’s a little secret. You don’t have to be a productivity nerd to quickly reap the benefits of a productivity system.

The goal of any good productivity system is to live more in-the-now and spend our time on the important instead of just the urgent.

The power comes from freeing ourselves from the stress our own minds place on us when we feel like we have too many things to get done.

What causes that feeling of being overwhelmed?

Our brains are really good at letting us know if there is something outstanding that we should consider doing, but not so good at letting us know about those things at a time or place when we can actually act on them. Typically - be it late at night, or when we are in conversation, or perhaps when we’re on a short break - our brain slaps us with a reminder about an outstanding task and it may not be even remotely related to what is in front of us or our immediate priorities.

Towards a trusted system

When we trust a system to track all the things we need to get done we create mind space and free ourselves. We can be our most creative and focused selves since the clutter of outstanding tasks has been removed. (Just consider how much more efficient our lives have become since storing documents on a server rather than putting them in a metal file cabinet.)

Winning at being productive is as simple as storing to-do lists in only one place, and committing ourselves to the process of populating that trusted place with absolutely everything we need to get done. We need to be able to rely on it as our one-stop shop for ‘What’s next?’ or ‘What do I have to do today?’

1. Capture everything and free your mind from clutter.

In order to clear a lot of space in your head it’s necessary to capture the things you want to get done and the next action you need to take.

First, we need to set aside time to get everything in our head on to the to-do list. It may seem like a daunting task, it might even seem annoying, but a little bit of investment in this first step of collecting of all known upcoming obligations goes a long way towards establishing a personalized process for being the most productive we can be.

After recording all information in short-term memory, start recording all the other to-dos you have on sticky notes, whiteboards, notebooks, etc. Get every single last one of them because ... remember ... the goal here is to free the mind from distraction and to create one to-do ‘database’ we we can rely on.

2. Get into the habit of checking one place - your trusted system.

Go back to that one place regularly in order to capture new to-dos, and review what is completed, what is outstanding, and what can defer until later.

Capture everything you need to get done, but capture it in one place.

This one-place capture is usually the point of failure for most people. Many of us make lists, but it’s by going back to the same list every time that will finally allow our brains to relax a bit. Developing this one habit will make the difference between a productivity tool that works for you and tool that is just being another thing to manage.

It works. Because if we can assure ourselves that we’ll see that list in the near future, and we know we will look because we are in the habit of checking it, then (and only then) will our brain finally get the message that it doesn’t need to keep all of this information ready and available. It takes a little bit of time to trick our brain into thinking it can safely offload this information into something not itself. Once convinced.. the benefits are obvious and magical. We get to use our brain at full capacity for stuff that matters. You could end up planning a better party.. having that snappy retort when you need it.. or resisting the urge to make a terrible buying decision because you were too stressed out to have your wits about you.

3. What is your next action? How to create actionable to-dos.

A stumbling block for some is not knowing how to create a to-do they can really act on. Think of to-dos as actions to take rather than what tasks need accomplishing. A great way to do this is to follow a next-action approach. The reality is we aren't be able to get a task out of our head unless we pinpoint all the necessary actions to take to get it done.

Next action to-dos start with action verbs. They answer the question of “What do I need to do to get this task done?”

For example, say you need to paint the living room. Paint The Living Room is your task. But there are actionable steps to take to complete the task of painting your living room. These steps go on your to-do list in your one trusted system for productivity management.

Start by asking yourself :

Q: What do I need to paint the living room?

A: “I need to get paint”

Q: What do you need to get paint?

A: “I need to pick a color"

Q: What do you need to pick a color?

A: “I need to look at swatches”

Q: What do you need to look at swatches?

A: “I need to pick them up from the paint store”

Q: What do you need to pick them up from the paint store?

A: “I need to get on Pinterest and find a color scheme I like”

So, your to-do list for this task might begin with :

  1. Research color schemes and create a lookbook
  2. Pick up swatches from paint store

In order to complete the task of Paint The Living Room, start by taking a few minutes to create actionable, granular to-dos for getting paint - which we’ve just identified as the first step towards painting the living room. Making a habit of clearing planned tasks and projects from the mind by capturing them in our one trusted system, and then breaking them into actionable work items, allows us to focus on taking next actions instead of just spending energy to recall them.


Use the to-do list to see what’s important right now and never let anything fall through the cracks again.

Using the to-do list not only helps with getting stuff out of our head but is also an effective tool for focusing on what we should be doing now. Handle provides tools that empower you through knowing what’s important now and what’s coming up.

Completed to-dos are automatically archived in History at your next reminder period. Or you can archive them sooner by pulling down to refresh the list.