Last updated 24th November 2023
In this article we’re going to explain and compare the 8 best productivity methods.
Productivity has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, particularly with the shift to hybrid and remote working.
Despite fears that productivity would plummet with workers no longer in the office, many studies have proven that the opposite has happened.
One Stanford study of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%.
And another report by Owl Labs discovered that 90% of respondents that worked from home during the pandemic felt they were as productive – or more – working remotely when compared to the office.
So it seems like productivity is on the up. But, of course, just because that’s a common narrative these days it doesn’t necessarily mean you feel more productive.
Maybe you’re experiencing a productivity dip. If so, you’re in the right place.
We’ve analysed and compared 8 productivity methods to help you find the one that’s perfect for you. So, let’s begin…
1. Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique was created by productivity guru Francesco Cirillo and, according to Francesco’s website, over 2 million people have already used the Pomodoro technique to transform their lives and be more productive.
All you need for this productivity method is a timer. The technique is named after the classic tomato-shaped kitchen timers (with ‘Pomodoro’ meaning ‘Tomato’ in Italian), but any timer will do.
You likely have a timer on the device you’re working on, but you can also use a Pomodoro timer tool, like Pomofocus, so that you don’t need to worry about setting and resetting your clock.
The Pomodoro technique works as follows: you set a timer for a given amount. The standard Pomodoro amount is usually 25 minutes. You work solidly for that short period and when your timer goes off at the 25 minute mark you take a short break, typically between 5 and 10 minutes.
When your break is over, you repeat the process. The idea is that working in short bursts means you are less likely to be distracted and procrastinate. And, thanks to the short breaks, you now have time actually allocated to procrastinating!
Pros of the Pomodoro technique
- It works with our psychology rather than against it. There are so many distractions around that we’re bound to be tempted to procrastinate. By actually giving yourself set periods to procrastinate it’s likely that you’ll boost your productivity during the 25 minutes of working time.
- It reduces burnout. Humans can only focus for so long before our brains need a break. The Pomodoro technique gets ahead of this issue by forcing us to take regular breaks that will hopefully improve productivity and reduce the chance of burnout.
- You can determine how long your tasks take. For example, if a task takes around 4 Pomodoro cycles then you’ll know that this roughly takes 2 hours to complete. This can be very helpful when it comes to planning tasks in the future and even pricing projects.
Cons of the Pomodoro technique
- It requires a lot of discipline. In order for the Pomodoro technique to work you have to be honest with yourself and not just ‘quickly check Twitter’ or ‘put the kettle on’ during your working block of time. You need to save all of your procrastinating for the allocated break. It can help to keep a notepad by your side and jot down anything that comes to mind (e.g. ‘search Google for X’) so you can save it for your break.
- Sometimes things inevitably pop up unexpectedly in your working day and this can really mess up your Pomodoro schedule and make it difficult to stick to. If you’re setting aside some time to use the Pomodoro technique then it could be helpful to mark yourself as ‘unavailable’ on all of the apps that you use so you know you won’t be disturbed.
The Pomodoro technique is ideal for…
Procrastinators! If you find yourself easily distracted, the Pomodoro technique can really break you out of that and help you to train your brain – in a gentle way – to focus for longer periods of time.
2. Getting Things Done
Getting Things Done (also known as GTD) is a productivity system developed by productivity consultant David Allen. It’s a 5 step method for helping you apply order to chaos.
The 5 steps are as follows:
1. Capture – gather everything that requires your attention into one place. In other words, make a to-do list.
2. Clarify – process your list. Decide which things are actionable, which can be put on hold, and which can be deleted.
3. Organise – put tasks in place, add dates to your calendar. Start plotting out when and how you can tick each action off your list.
4. Reflect – review your list frequently, and update as needed.
5. Engage – trust the system and make action decisions with confidence and clarity.
The idea behind this productivity method is simple: the more things you have fighting for your attention, the more difficult it is to concentrate and get things done!
This is backed up by our Project Management Statistics 2021 Report that found 96% of people feel that having a to-do list to work through makes them more efficient and productive.
Pros of Getting Things Done
- It’s not just for work! You can apply the GTD Method to every part of your life to help you plan your day successfully and accomplish what you set out to do each day.
- More room to be creative. When you’re well organised you free your mind up from the worries that come with an overloaded to-do list, and this can lead to more creative thinking.
- You can focus on what’s in front of you. If you’re juggling a lot of tasks, ideas, or projects you can be forgiven for bouncing from one to the other, but that’s not really productive. The GTD Method allows you to focus on one task or action at a time so you can tick things off and make steady progress.
Cons of Getting Things Done
- It can be overwhelming to get started. There’s a lot of initial implementation to this method and if you’re already feeling like you have a lot on your plate then this could be a daunting first step.
- It’s pretty complex. We’ve tried to simplify the GTD Method as best we can here, but if you really want to get into it then it can be quite complex and has a lot of rules. There are some other productivity methods on this list that are much easier to get into.
The GTD Method is ideal for…
Busy people who wear a lot of hats! If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you have to get through every day then this is the method for you.
It’s also great for those who feel like they start a lot of projects but never finish them. The GTD Method can help you plot out the next steps to confidently finish projects and move onto the next thing.
If you’re interested in learning more about Getting Things Done, David Allen also has a podcast that goes by the same name. You can find out more about that (and other productivity podcasts) here: 14 Essential Productivity Podcasts for 2023.
3. Don’t Break the Chain
Don’t Break the Chain is also referred to as The Seinfeld Strategy in some places because it’s attributed to Jerry Seinfeld.
Yes, comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
The story goes that a young comedian called Brad Isaac found himself performing in the same club as Jerry Seinfeld and he asked for some tips. According to Isaac, the advice was as follows:
“He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.
“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
Now, as great as that story is, it has since been debunked by Seinfeld himself.
But, regardless of who came up with the idea, it’s a nice, simple way for anyone to improve their productivity – not just comedians!
If you have a large task that you just can’t seem to finish (or maybe even start), or you want to create new, healthy habits, Don’t Break the Chain can give you the motivation to chip away at your goal each day in a way that isn’t intimidating and doesn’t require much effort.
Pros of Don’t Break the Chain
- It’s low commitment. All this method asks of you is that you complete one task every day. It doesn’t have to be huge, it just has to be a small step towards your overall goal. So, for example, if your goal is to write a book then with Don’t Break the Chain you can simply set yourself a goal of writing one sentence per day. Soon the chain will build and you’ll have a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter! And, before you know it, hopefully a completed book.
- That brings us onto the second positive of Don’t Break the Chain – it can be used for pretty much anything. Just like Getting Things Done, you can use Don’t Break the Chain in your personal life as well as your professional life.
- It gives you a visual indicator of your productivity. The big wall calendar is the most important part of this method. Every time you mark an X on your calendar it can give you a sense of achievement and, as you see the chain begin to build this will transform into motivation that pushes you to succeed.
Cons of Don’t Break the Chain
- So, we said that one of the benefits of this method is that it’s low commitment. But that can also be a negative. Don’t Break the Chain will help you with consistency and getting over any mental hurdles that are stopping you from getting started with your tasks, but it isn’t going to get you anywhere in a hurry.
- It can be disheartening. If you miss a day and end up ‘breaking the chain’, as most people are likely to do because life happens, then it can make you feel like you’ve failed – especially with the visual reminder of having no X on that calendar date.
Don’t Break the Chain is ideal for…
Visual people who want to create new habits and chip away at large goals. It can be used for both personal and professional tasks.
4. Eat the Frog
Similar to Don’t Break the Chain, it’s difficult to know where the Eat the Frog productivity method originated, but it is often attributed to the writer Mark Twain. The quote goes:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
The frog is of course metaphorical and refers to the hardest task of the day. The one you’re dreading. The idea behind this productivity method is that if you complete your toughest task first then the rest of the day will seem easier.
Pros of Eat the Frog
- It sets you up for success. If you’ve got your toughest task out of the way by 10 a.m., imagine how great the rest of your day can be! The Eat the Frog method can help you breeze through your days with ease, not only making you more productive but happier too.
- Our brains work better in the morning. By focusing on your most difficult task early in the day, you’re getting the most out of your brain power. According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, our brains work best between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. with a sharp drop off in speed and performance after that.
- It’s simple and sets you up for a win. Ultimately, this is a low commitment productivity method that asks you to do just one thing. All you need to do is get your hardest task out of the way first, and you’ll be more productive!
Cons of Eat the Frog
- It’s hard! It’s hard to eat a frog (even a metaphorical one). And it takes a lot of willpower to climb that very difficult hurdle first thing in the morning, every morning.
- Because it’s hard it can result in a lack of motivation and even disengagement. It’s important to recognise when this method is getting a bit too much. It’s probably not practical to ‘eat the frog’ every day, especially as you never know what the day is going to throw at you. However, it’s still a great technique to keep in your back pocket for those stubborn tasks that you keep putting off.
Eat the Frog is ideal for…
Procrastinators. If you find yourself putting off tasks until you feel stressed and under pressure, especially if you tend to miss deadlines, this is the perfect productivity method for you. It essentially asks you to flip the script and get that dreaded task out of the way so the rest of your day is free of stress and you’re less likely to miss your deadlines.
5. Time blocking
It’s difficult to pin down the origins of time blocking as it’s such an easy and straight-forward method of time management that humans have probably been using it as long as calendars and clocks have been around.
Time blocking is the process of scheduling out your tasks for the day by blocking out time. Here’s a simple example from the personal diary of Benjamin Franklin!
And here is a more modern version that we created using Google Calendar:
Note that both versions include personal and work tasks. This is a productivity method to help you organise your whole life!
You can find out more about time blocking by watching this video:
Pros of time blocking
- It helps to eliminate distractions. If you block out every minute of your day then you can also include your typical procrastination habits into the mix. For example, you can block out 3 – 3:45 p.m. for working and then allocate 3:45 – 4 p.m. to checking your social media. This will hopefully reduce your temptation to check your accounts while working, keeping you distraction free.
- Minimise mental pressure! Time blocking gives you the freedom to stop multitasking, which has been proven to have a negative impact on our minds. According to Inc., multitasking can lower your IQ by 15 points!
- You can feel accomplished at the end of each day. Time blocking allows you to see your day laid out visually. If you’ve achieved everything you set out to that day then it can give you a great feeling of accomplishment.
Cons of time blocking
- It takes time. Of course, if you’re feeling busy then you may feel like you don’t have any time to waste planning out your day minute by minute. However, once you do it a couple of times you should have a rough outline that you can use again and again.
- Plans can still be derailed. Despite our best efforts sometimes plans can still be thwarted and that can make you feel as though your time blocking was a waste of, well, time. However, most of the time this won’t be the case so time blocking can still be a helpful productivity method. And, to loop this all back to Benjamin Franklin, “if you fail to plan you are planning to fail”.
Time blocking is ideal for…
Planners! And people in high demand. If you feel like your attention is being pulled in lots of different directions then time blocking can help you to schedule time for each task you have on your plate so that you can slowly but surely chip away at everything.
We’re HUGE fans of kanban project management at Project.co. ‘Kanban’ when translated into Japanese means ‘billboard’ or ‘sign’. This productivity method finds its roots in Japan, having been first developed and used by the Toyota manufacturing plant in the 1940s.
Kanban is a way to visualise progress on your projects. Using any method that works for you (from post-it notes to a dedicated project management system), Kanban invites you to split your projects up into 3 categories: to-do, doing, and done.
It’s a simple productivity method but effective because it allows you to view your progress at a glance and helps you to understand where you may be forming bottlenecks and where you should focus most of your efforts in order to keep things moving forward.
Pros of Kanban
- It’s highly personalisable. While the suggested categories for Kanban are to-do, doing, and done, these can be personalised to fit your business and/or projects. For example, our sister company Wyzowl focuses mainly on creating animated explainer videos and they use the following 5 Kanban categories to manage projects: Active, Copy, Design, Animation, Closed. So you can find what works for you!
- It’s great if you’re feeling overwhelmed. This is because it allows you to break your projects down into more manageable tasks. It also gives you a visual representation of your projects so you can see how they’re progressing with all of the relevant information you need in one place.
- You can use Kanban alone or as a group! It’s a great method for collaborating on projects but it can also help you manage your own individual tasks.
Cons of Kanban
- It cannot be used in a dynamic environment. If you’re using Kanban to manage your tasks then you need plans that are pretty consistent and stable. If you work in a dynamic environment where the scope of projects changes a lot then Kanban probably isn’t for you.
- You have to keep on top of it. Generally, there are no timeframes linked to each Kanban category so it’s up to you to keep things moving. You also need to keep your Kanban board up-to-date in order for this productivity method to be effective.
Kanban is ideal for…
Businesses that manage a lot of projects, especially those with cross-functional teams. Kanban is also great for people who start a lot of projects but have trouble finishing them. This productivity method could be exactly what you need to hold yourself accountable!
Single-tasking, as you may have guessed from the name, is the opposite of multitasking. It’s the process of focusing intently on just one task until it’s complete, then moving onto the next task.
It seems like a pretty alien concept in this fast-moving world, but there’s solid reasoning behind single-tasking.
As mentioned in the time blocking section, multitasking is not all it’s cracked up to be. We may think we’re getting more done when in reality we’re working harder, not smarter or faster.
Single-tasking requires you to give your all to one task until it’s complete. This means no checking emails, no listening to a podcast, no daydreaming.
Pros of single-tasking
- It’s more productive. If we can retrain our brains to work on one task at a time there’s evidence that we’ll be more productive and work more effectively.
- It can improve your attention span. If you can master single-tasking then your brain is going to become more powerful! You’ll be able to zone out distractions and learn to focus on one thing for an extended amount of time.
- You’re more likely to actually finish things! Single-tasking means you can’t jump back and forth between tasks, so you’re more likely to see things through.
Cons of single-tasking
- It takes a lot of discipline. While single-tasking takes little to no planning or commitment to get started, it takes a lot of willpower. Most of us check our emails without even realising; it’s like a reflex. It can be really difficult to train your brain to be hyper-focused on one thing.
- It can potentially lead to burnout. Single-tasking requires a lot of focus and there’s a risk that this can lead to burnout. Make sure you schedule regular breaks to prevent this from happening – single-tasking goes great with the Pomodoro technique!
Single-tasking is ideal for…
Busy people and procrastinators. If you find yourself burdened by lots of tasks and you keep hopping from one to the other without ever making progress, single-tasking is for you. Single-tasking requires you to completely finish what you’re working on before you move onto the next thing. It can be hard to get started but is a rewarding productivity method once you get the hang of it!
8. Eisenhower matrix
The Eisenhower matrix is a simple yet effective productivity method invented by the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
As you can probably imagine, Eisenhower had a lot of tough decisions to make on a daily basis and he created this formula for helping him to decide how to manage his tasks. Here’s a quick example of the Eisenhower matrix:
You basically divide your tasks into the boxes based on how important and/or urgent they are. Watch this video for a great 2 minute breakdown of the Eisenhower matrix:
Pros of the Eisenhower matrix
- It’s easy to get started. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper, split it into quadrants, and you’re good to go!
- You can use this method to improve productivity in your professional life, but also your personal life.
- This is a visual method which makes it perfect for visual learners, and it also makes it easy to see your most important tasks at a glance. In addition to this, the Eisenhower matrix can help you understand your tasks better. It asks you to question which tasks are important and which actually don’t require your attention at all – saving you tons of time!
Cons of the Eisenhower matrix
- It could be too simple for your needs. Everyone’s work environment is different and it might be that your tasks don’t neatly fit into the 4 quadrants of this productivity method.
- It’s not that great for fast-paced, changing environments. If your day can change on a dime or you’re likely to get some unexpected tasks thrown at you here and there, then the Eisenhower matrix may not be a robust enough productivity method for you.
The Eisenhower matrix is ideal for…
People who need to prioritise. Sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything! The Eisenhower matrix allows you to see what deserves your time and what can be delegated or even eliminated from your daily schedule.
So, there you have it! The 8 best productivity methods explained and compared. We hope you find one that’s perfect for you.
Hungry for more productivity-based content? Check out our list of the best productivity hacks!