Most productivity systems boil down to these cheap but essential items that you can purchase to have your most productive year so far.
I have a very simple formula to decide if I had a productive day — look at my task manager and calculate the following metric:
# of tasks completed / # of tasks scheduled
Let’s say I had 8 tasks scheduled for a given day.
I completed 6 tasks.
That’s 0.75 or 75%.
I can call that a fairly productive day because I got more than 2/3rd of my work done.
Most of the hard work is done ahead of time. Every Sunday I plan out the week and distribute work evenly. Of course, come Monday, real life hits me in the face, and there are 10 different things that come up for me to take on.
I take that into account when planning on Sundays.
That’s why I am calling 75% a fairly productive day. Getting more than two-thirds done given the unpredictability of a day is a success.
If I were to boil down all the tools I use to make myself productive to a few essentials that are also affordable, I come down to 4–5 items. They make the foundation of my productivity system.
Since my company went permanently to WFH, I have been changing up my work setup on a fairly regular basis. Most days I find myself working from my home office, however, there are days I work from cafes and parks too.
No matter what the setup, these essentials always do the trick.
If you are starting your productivity journey in 2023, and want to make the most of the year, start with these purchases. They won’t burn too big a hole in your pocket, and most likely you will get the most bang for your buck this way.
Without waiting any longer, let me share the 5 items that help me be productive on most days of the week.
Focus Timer (Physical or Digital)
In this hyper-connected and distraction-filled world, it’s more important than ever before to stay focused.
That’s where a focus timer comes in.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a strict follower of the Pomodoro technique or not, a focus timer will help you regardless.
The goal is very simple: you set a timer for X minutes/hours where the task gets 100% of your focus and attention. Once you start the timer, it’s a sign that nothing else can bother you until the timer goes off.
Different people have different lifestyles. Some like digital tools, some prefer analog. Whichever bucket you fall in, there is some tool you can use as focus timers.
There are some cool physical timers I have come across recently:
If you are like me and prefer digital tools, check out the following apps:
Once you get in the habit of using these, the moment you turn on the timer, your brain will know that it’s “game time”.
A Reusable Water Bottle
Getting important work done requires high focus. To focus, your brain needs a lot of energy. That’s where staying hydrated becomes really important.
No matter where you are — home office, office, or cafe — keep a water bottle handy. By staying hydrated you can focus better, reduce hunger, and clear brain fog.
Of course, that also means fewer trips to the kitchen to get water, and less money spent on coffee if you are working from a cafe.
This becomes especially important if you have a schedule with many deep focus blocks. If you don’t stay hydrated during those sessions, your energy levels will dip drastically later in the day.
If you are not healthy, you can never focus on your work. And to stay healthy, one of the best things you can do is constantly hydrate yourself by drinking water.
This one is cliched in the productivity space for a reason. It’s extremely important to own a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
Be careful though — these can get absurdly expensive! Marketing people hide behind the veil of productivity and will try their best to squeeze every penny out of you by promising you the world.
You don’t need to spend too much.
After a certain level of noise-canceling capability, you start hitting a point of diminishing returns very soon. To reach that point, you don’t need a very expensive set of headphones.
Of course, if you have the budget, go crazy!
If you don’t, however, don’t make that a reason not to be productive. Most pairs in the market will be sufficient for you to get your work done.
Personally, I find the mere act of putting on headphones more important than the actual quality of the noise-canceling feature. Just putting on headphones is me signaling my brain that it’s time to go to “work mode”. By doing that, my brain switches off other distractions, and I am already knee-deep into my work, regardless of the headphone’s quality.
I have written about free productivity systems in other blog posts. If you don’t want to spend on this, I understand. Use one of the free systems.
If you want extra motivation, along with some more bells and whistles, I would recommend investing in a task manager.
I always recommend using a digital task manager. Physical task managers are cool too, but they add a ton of friction to being flexible with your work.
When you actually put your own money on the line, you are more likely to use a product. Task manager apps also tend to be cheap, sometimes costing you less than a couple of Starbucks coffee.
If you are convinced and want to try one out, I would recommend one of the following:
I was introduced to task management by TickTick, and I never looked back. My productivity setup is literally pointless without a task manager.
The best investment you can make is an investment in your personal growth.
If you are serious about achieving more and making the best of every day, you need to put habits and systems in place. There is no alternative to that.
In order to do that, however, you need to educate yourself first.
When I say “educate”, I don’t mean just looking at a few TikTok videos or short-form articles to “understand”. I mean actually understand the topics related to productivity and time management deeply.
There’s a science behind most of these if you want to adopt them successfully into your lives.
For starters, if you are new to this space, I would recommend starting out with the following books. They will literally transform your work habits and show you how little changes can make drastic changes in your life’s output.
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Make Time by Jake Knapp
Once you read these books you will realize that productivity is so much more about systems than tools and apps.
You can achieve anything you want with the most basic tools and apps, as long as you have the correct systems and routines in place.
I hope you found this helpful.
I wish you the most successful and productive 2023. Take care.