Productivity Map

by bsrubin on October 24, 2012

I’ve been thinking about productivity quite a bit recently.  First from a personal perspective – I found ways to enhance my ability to reach goals.  I’m still on that journey but now have some tips and tricks under my belt.  I’ve increased my ability to get stuff done by 3-5x.

Now I’m thinking business ideas – how can we help many people achieve their goals and get stuff done.

Meetings and Managers are bad for productivity

Productive: Producing or able to produce large amounts of goods, crops, or other commodities.

Productivness: The quality of being productive or having the power to produce.

Showing up is Half the Battle

I’m going to examine productivity systems.  But first a pre-requisite.

Show up in a physical and mental state to work.

This is basic.  Try getting high quality work done while under-slept, hung-over, hungry, and angry at your wife.  Good luck.  About all folks can manage in this state is hitting urgent deadlines (often poorly) and churning through mundane repetitive tasks.  More often just about nothing gets done – but infinite knowledge is obtained on the state of TechCrunch, Nytimes, and Facebook friend update.

Getting yourself in physical and mental shape to achieve your goals is key.  For more see excellent content like BulletProof Exec and Four Hour Body.  Let’s assume you are there.

The Battle

I’ve been in a beautiful physical and mental state and chosen to watch The Walking Dead (was intending to work…).  Why does this happen?  What needs to be in place to ensure it doesn’t.

  • Have a list of tasks, prioritized.
  • Know what the next step is on each task.
  • Know what ‘done’ looks like.
  • Connect with how the task at hand serves your larger life goals.
  • Minimize distractions (internal and external).
  • Have the tools at hand to take on the tasks, and be excellent at using them efficiently.
  • Be accountable to someone you trust for getting it all done.
  • Measure results, review, rinse and repeat.
Easy to say.  Hard to do.

What Exists to Help?

Many excellent folks have helped us with tools to become more productive.  But there are gaps.  Let’s explore.


There is a huge amount of content on productivity.  Getting Things Done and The Pomodoro Technique are two of my favorite systems.  They work.  There are surely thousands of other system that work and folks who can inform you about them.

But where do you start?  How do you stay with it?


One-on One coaching for productivity kicks ass.  Just call up David Allen and pay whatever he asks since you’re a billionaire.  I’m sure it would be excellent.

Why isn’t there anything between Content and Coaching?

A good parallel market to take a look at is fitness.  There exist *many* levels between ‘read and do’ and ‘personal trainer’.

Books, Blogs -> Digital Tracker (Nike+) -> Digital Trainer -> Gym Buddy -> Group Fitness (Crossfit) -> Remote trainer (FitOrbit) -> In-Person Physical Trainer

There is the middle for productivity?


Tons of software exists to help you become more productive.  See the detailed mind-map I made of the space below (using iThoughtsHD).


How about a high-level summary?  I’ll focus on the state-of-the-art advances happening in productivity today.

Basic productivity tools like email, calendar, document editing, chat, etc. have mass-market adoption.  A ton of work is going into optimizing and tweaking these basic productivity systems.  Examples:

  • Doodle is making it easier to schedule meetings using a web application to help select times.
  • is adding reminders/followup capabilities to email so nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Instapaper is making it easy to ‘read it later’ on multiple devices.
  • As a trend in itself – the humble todo list is getting a major upgrade in usability, social, reminders, from Asana,, Wunderlist, and many others.

New classes of productivity tools are emerging that create exciting ways to get more done.

  • Campfire combines chat/calls/file sharing into a nice web tool for group meetings and collaboration.
  • Evernote is helping you remember everything.
  • RescueTime tracks what you do on your computer and Freedom turns off the internet so you can work.

Software tools are emerging to help implement systems previously just available as content.

Lot’s of innovation both within existing tools and in new directions.


An ideal team is tuned for productivity.  The team is co-located, everyone knows what the priorities are, what their deliverables are, peers and mentors provide coaching, and there is a palpable sense of cohesion around getting stuff done.  Think a well-run Scrum around a software project.

Unfortunately there are two factors that interrupt this ideal for most people:

  • Offices are full of distractions – the absolute productivity killer.  M&M’s – Meetings and Managers stop us from getting our work done.
  • Much of the work we do today doesn’t occur in a nice small-team format.  We are often on our own, in the office or elsewhere – working through email, document creation, or consuming content.  It’s lonely and support systems are hard to find.
There don’t exist great tools to help us obtain and then run in the optimal environment for work.

What’s Missing

A couple things pop out as missing form the current architecture of productivity.

  • Coaching is one-on-one only – group/smart-software coaching is needed.
  • Many systems exist.  Software support is minimal.  Sometimes software just mucks things up – but I suspect well designed and tested software can help us implement productivity systems.
  • Accountability as part of a small and excellent team is a great motivator.  Most of us don’t perform most of our tasks in this environment.
  • Office environments are often tuned for anti-productivity.  From the desk (standing, balancing, lighting, sound isolation) to the office (creative spaces, doors) a ton could be done to foster productivity and creativity.
  • Discovery and measurement is a problem.  There are SO many options to improve productivity it’s hard to know where to start and what works.

Get in touch if you are thinking about these problems!

  • Jscott

    Dealing with this (again) myself.  Like many, I have used multiple systems.  Some out of the box and some made up.  Your bullet point here struck a chord:

    “Coaching is one-on-one only – group/smart-software coaching is needed.”
    Ramit launched something that is close  However, there is something to be said for face to face and frequent check-ups with an advisor.  Even in the business world, to much time elapses in between evaluations.  
    My current system is missing the outside input.  Though, the quantified self aspect of things has helped immensely in me seeing reality verses my made up version.  I am still shocked at how much time I spend on nothingness. 

    I like the idea of realtime feedback.  Seth Roberts wrote about it here:


  • Anonymous

    Just checked out both of those links – much appreciate both.  Johnny B. Truant has a ‘personal development’ community as well:  
    Here is what I’m finding:
    Both Johnny + Ramit have a similar product in Everyday Legendary and Brain Trust – exclusive content AND a forum/network of like-minded folks.
    - for me personally there is an absolute over-abundance of content in the world.  I have 1000+ books, blogs, videos that I want to dig into.  So more content/systems/advice isn’t the key for me.
    - I don’t remain accountable to random folks on the inter-webs – accountability for me means someone I know and trust AND/OR I’m physically proximate to.  Ideally both.

    Re. Seth Roberts and real-time feedback – this is pretty smart stuff.  I’m going to check out that methodology and give it a try.

  • Jscott

    Your honesty is refreshing.  I am with you on the content/advice the interwebz.  For me to benefit fully I need visible contact and I need it often.  At least until momentum is reached.  

    My biggest jumps have come when there has been a strong community element, minimalist design, a way to automate  so I can focus solely on the action, and quick feedback.  It would be fantastic if I could develop a grouping without having to recreate a group each time.  Who wants to have to go to crossfit for the physique, a Buddhist temple for meditation, toastmasters for speaking, etc?  I have found I do not have the relationship energy to maintain momentum for tons of groups.  Perhaps this is more telling about my personal relationships needing to change.Do you find it prohibitive in using a one to one pro?  A few quick asides:

    The Seth link features a that is part of the .  Interesting idea.  I think they are in your area?
    Ferriss is doing an interesting experiment with weight loss combining elements with the Lift app, reward/punishment via dietbet, and automation of meals. Thank you for taking the time to respond.  I am interested in any of your findings.  Your blog has been helpful along with the Zeo.

  • Anonymous

    I’m working on a productivity software idea I could use some feedback on.  If you are game we could chat – email me at

  • Jscott


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