What’s The Best Writing Productivity Systems? 6 Top Choices

You can pick from dozens of established writing productivity systems.

Each one focuses on various ways that people can manage their work. Many of these systems borrow elements from each other, and some are more popular than others.

These systems come with a range of apps, software programs, and various supporting materials and books.

But what types are best for creatives and writers? And will they help you overcome procrastination and start writing faster?

Although a perfect productivity system doesn’t exist, I profile some of the more popular productivity systems for writing in this guide.

1. Getting Things Done Developed

Getting Things Done by David Allen is one of the more popular personal productivity techniques. Also known as GTD, it’s an American system that’s been around for 20 years, although Allen describes the methodology as “old as dirt.” 

GTD breaks goals and projects into a series of Next Actions and Outcomes, which the user must track and put in a place that they regularly review. They also review all of their various inboxes or buckets regularly, e.g., Evernote, email, social media messages, loose notes, etc.

You can browse several productivity books, a host of websites, podcasts and other online resources about this system.

Adoptees affectionately described themselves as GTD-ers. Time magazine even described the first book about the system as “the self-help business book of its time.”

I use the concept of a weekly review from this system to evaluate the status of my writing projects (blog posts, articles, and other websites) and progress on my writing goals

It’s a good system for freelance writers who must manage other parts of their business.

Pros
  • An established methodology, tried and tested by Fortune 500 companies
  • Lots of online support and resources
  • Great for managing complex projects and working with someone else
Cons
  • Take some practice and self-discipline
  • You’ll need to read the book to master it (available on Amazon)
  • Not built with creative work in mind

2. The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.

It essentially involves breaking work down into manageable chunks of 25 minutes, which are timed. These blocks of work are separated by short breaks of three to five minutes. After four Pomodoro sessions, the user takes a longer 15-30 minute break.

The user also records and tracks all their work using special tracking sheets. All you really need is a laptop, a timer and somewhere to work, i.e., your office, or a coffee shop. 

I regularly use this technique as part of my writing productivity system. It helps me find time for single-tasking, for example, writing a first draft that I’m procrastinating about.

A Pomodoro Time
A Pomodoro Timer
Pros
  • Suited for any task that requires continued focus. Promotes a regular writing habit
  • Encourages tracking and metrics, i.e. a word-count
Cons
  • Doesn’t track tasks with deadlines
  • Doesn’t focus on actions, reviews or outcomes. Some environments aren’t suited to uninterrupted blocks of work e.g. a hospital, a shop
Sale
The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work
  • Hardcover Book
  • Cirillo, Francesco (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 08/14/2018 (Publication Date) - Currency (Publisher)

3. Streaks AKA Don’t Break The Chain

Streaks is a simple productivity technique developed by the comedy writer Jerry Seinfeld.

Seinfeld came up with this technique after deciding that he needed to do one thing every day: write a joke. Each day he wrote a joke, he marked a large X on a yearly wall calendar. 

His idea was to build up a chain of Xs or streaks he felt reluctant to break. I’ve used this method extensively and blogged about it here.

I use it as part of my writing productivity system when faced with a blank page or a target word-count for the week. Basically, I must achieve a certain word-count to claim my X as part of my daily writing session.

Jerry Seinfeld
“Don’t break the chain,” says Jerry
Pros
  • Supports small habitual changes
  • Simple and effective
Cons
  • Not suitable for complex tracking
  • Makes no allowances when you can’t work, e.g. holidays, sick days, the weekends

4. The Action Method

Action Method is a task management system for people and teams. It has a lot in common with Getting Things Done, but it’s more geared towards creative professionals who need to put their ideas into reality. It’s also designed with teams in mind.

This method asks adoptees to consider the verb of each task e.g. “write a blog post” and not “blog post”.

It also provides users with a way to track and delegate tasks, accept and reject projects. The Action Method comes with various purpose-built software offerings, which should ease the transition for new adoptees.

In summary, it focuses on the rather self-explanatory Action Steps, Backburner Items, and Reference Items. I don’t use this system as part of my current writing productivity system.

Pros
  • Tailored to meet the needs of creative professionals Focuses on actions users can take
  • Provides an effective means of collaboration for teams
Cons
  • Small cost to supporting materials
  • Not built into many productivity apps

5. Personal Kanban

Kanban is a Japanese productivity technique developed by Taiichi Ohno.

It has influenced everything from manufacturing processes to IT development. You can easily adapt this system to manage your writing time too.

Personal Kanban is a derivative of Kanban developed by Jim Benson. It asks adoptees to visualize their work and limit their work in progress.

Adoptees use a Personal Kanban board that breaks down a person’s projects into “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done”.

This lets them see work they’ve yet to get to, as well as work in progress and work accomplished. Personal Kanban is simple to use, and adoptees can rely on electronic versions like Trello or simply use a whiteboard with sticky notes.

This is minimalism at its finest. 

I use this system to manage multiple writing projects, for example, blog posts by other writers. Personal Kanban is also a good system if you’re engaged in the discipline of content marketing. It will help you track complicated projects and metrics.

Personal Kanban in action
Personal Kanban in action
Pros
  • Easy to understand and adopt
  • Scales up or down to meet your needs
  • Good for bloggers who have a lot of non-creative tasks
Cons
  • Not suitable for every type of project
  • Kanban isn’t like your normal to-do list
Sale
Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life
  • Benson, Jim (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 216 Pages - 02/02/2011 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

6. Franklin Planner

Developed by Stephen Covey, this methodology forms part of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The planner has been around for over twenty years and has evolved into a popular productivity system trusted by many business people.

This type of planner is similar to a Filofax. It consolidates tasks, appointments, and personal notes in one place. It asks users to set goals and organize their time by considering the entire week and not just each day.

This planner comes with a weekly schedule sheet, including space for an individual’s roles, goals, daily and weekly priorities, and appointments. Users should review their schedule at the start of each day to effectively plan and prioritize.

Pros
  • A highly adaptable system
  • Established range of supporting materials
  • Geared towards those who like to work with pen and paper.
Cons
  • Takes time to understand and implement
  • Habits represent a system for life, might be too much for some!
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Writing Productivity Systems: The Final Word

It’s possible to spend hours avoiding writing because you’re searching for the perfect tools, methods and apps. 

The perfect productivity system doesn’t exist, and it’s more effective to pick one method that supports your writing process.

Stick with that and start writing.

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10 thoughts on “What’s The Best Writing Productivity Systems? 6 Top Choices”

  1. I’m still looking, but so far the best thing I found was The Secret Weapon, (TSW) which is simply one of the versions of combining Getting Things Done and Evernote. (The website describes it in detail, and you can find youtube videos on it.)
    But I think that combining the urgent/important concept by Steven Covey (7 Habits,) helps.
    I am now attempting to add in a KanBan type of workflow into the process.
    So far this has been the most successful time management system I have ever used.

  2. I stick with the kanban board method too, but instead of Trello I have a program called Kanban Tool Kanban Tool . It’s simplier, so helps me to stay focused when planning all the writing… Also I can have a different board just for translating and other projects I do.

  3. Alison Moore Smith

    Enjoyed your article.

    Just a heads up. Covey didn’t invent Franklin Planners. Hyrum Smith started the the company in 1984. Smith and Covey came together in the late 90s creating a new Covey-style planner (with weeks rather than days and roles) that could be purchased instead of the old-style Franklin one Last time I looked, the old-style planners were the ones still being sold.

  4. Bryan – thanks for your good information for writers. I work as an IT professional, plus I am attempting my first novel which required major research (historical). I am also excellent at procrastinating and have a plethora of engaging interests to keep me from feeling bored. “This overview shows that productivity has become an industry in itself. It’s possible to spend hours avoiding work because you’re searching for the perfect tools and methods.” OUCH!! that hit fair and square in the belly, having just spend two weekends and more attempting to set up a task management system for myself.

    So, after various aborted attempts at to-do systems in the past, I went ahead and installed Nozbe which is a pretty cool cross-platform system but after a week, I migrated my tasks (manually) into GQueues. I am fully Google-ised so GQueues works well for me and is also 1/4 the price of Nozbe and I love the Android version – I can dictate a new task in a matter of seconds and the app allows for all manner of natural-speech calendar entries etc.

    So I am using GQueue’ implementation of GTD for my overall life planning, but I agree that GTD does not sit well with the creative side of writing. For writing I am a happy user of Scrivener which is an awesome environment for authors to contain and manage their projects. Highly recommended! Still early days but if I can “obey” my action list and beat the procrastination devil in me, then GQueus may work for me. Fingers crossed – will keep you posted in a month or so 🙂

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