PMI Bangalore Chapter

PM Book Review November 2020

Secrets of Productive People  – by Mark Forster

50 Techniques to Get Things Done   

Brij Sethi

Brij Sethi, Partner – Dost Expertise LLP. Brij helps you apply Head Heart Hands to work. Head – Build and Share Expertise. Heart – Care and Persist. Hands – Stay Healthy and Get things done with grace and ease.

Productive people make a real and measurable difference to the world.

Mark Forster (read blog) is a productivity guru, who IMO stands taller than David Allen because he dismantles the building blocks in ways you can put them together on your own and explores more of them, all the time.

He teaches you to be creative yourself (in solving your productivity problem), rather than giving a prescription.

The pillars of Productivity

Mark Forster defines – Productivity = Efficiency x Creativity.

Efficiency comes from productive time management. Creativity rests on how to get great ideas while questioning the problem, you want to solve.

#doableAction – Recognize the three pillars of productivity – Efficiency, Creativity, and Consistency.

#doableAction You can learn to be productive by putting effort into fixing your weak spots.

Start by looking for patterns in what makes any of us unproductive. And then #doableAction do less of the same.

These usually are – Being unsystematic, No follow through, and overloading yourself.

First Fix your Low-level Systems. Email is #1

Email is an example of a low-level system. It affects everything that is based on it. You need to do it right. Your system is unique to you and only you can fix it.

Look for your ‘always’ tendencies. If you say, I am always behind or I always forget to check my schedule in the morning – then it is about fixing the low-level system.

Instead of throwing away your current system, tweak and improve it. It is more likely to work (#doableAction – Did your GTD effort fail? Why?).

Question the system! (and your ‘always’ or ‘never’ around it).

Questioning is fundamental to the creative process

Questioning is fundamental to the creative process. #doableAction Ask the ‘why’ questions. Why do I forget to check my schedule in the morning?

Then question your answer with another why – repeatedly as needed.

#doableAction Follow up with ‘How’ question. The ‘Why’ are necessary, but need to result in a ‘How’. That makes it constructive.

You may not be able to answer the question in mind. Let it simmer in the back. #doableAction – Have a system in place to revisit your pending questions.

Let your questions provide answers that are not just going along with everybody. Think for yourself and fix what needs attention.

Revisiting is a Key Practice – Little and Often

Revisiting is great for generating quality ideas. #doableAction Write my five best ideas for, ‘xxx – whatever you want to ideate on’. Don’t think too hard. Write it. Then put it away. Repeat this the next day – without looking at these. Do this for five days. Then see and compare.

This also works for questions that require thought. Make bullet points instead of putting them away for the 5th day.

The core idea here is, ‘Little and Often’. And sustained (background) mindfulness.

‘Little and Often’ cuts both for ideas and time (procrastination). If you have been putting off doing something, #doableAction Get started and do a little bit. Then come back to it later.

Salami Slicing (the name) relies on identifying the first step of a big project and starting on it. It can be (worst case) as simple as just getting the file out.

Hoard your chunks of Discretionary time

To manage time better, look out for chunks of your discretionary time. Where you have control over what you can do with it. All of us have at least some of it. Even in the most tied down of jobs, the key is to use it well.

Treat your discretionary time as a precious resource and manage it accordingly. #doableAction Look to create more of it by skipping meetings and saying ‘No’ especially if you can demonstrate value from all the time saved!

Mark Forster talks about Distant Elephants too. From a mountain top in Kenya (while on a safari) the grazing elephants look peaceful. So does your calendar a year out from now. Come closer to the elephants and you will find mayhem and destruction. Ditto when tomorrow becomes today. #doableAction thinks well before making commitments far out in the future.

The Crown Jewels – Time Management

Let us now look at productive time management – one of the basic systems we need is how to manage our time.

  • Basic daily routines should be under control
  • Tasks should be actioned quickly and systematically
  • Big projects should be given adequate time.


#doableAction Use these as a checklist to decide if your time management system needs tweaking.

A good system operates in the background and gets out of the way.

Problem with Todo Lists

The problem with todo lists is that they are out of date, very shortly after you have written them.

Then they add to your stress of things not yet done, without any hope of crossing all of them off.

You add things to ToDo lists because you do not want to miss them. So, they also spread your focus all over the place.

A narrow focus is based on the idea that you take on work, if you are able to keep up to date with it.

#doableAction Here is a simple system that works. His blog has many more.

The 5 tasks system

  1. To start – every morning – List 5 tasks to do.

Don’t feed from a larger list. Start fresh. It is essential for the method to work properly (this requires some courage so before your start, move your essential reminders to some app with an alarm set at the right time – and out of your discretionary time)

  1. The tasks can be any size, but doable in a day. They should be with a clear finish point. Example – ‘write 1000 words of my novel’ instead of simply, ‘write my novel!’
  2. Do the tasks in order. You don’t have to finish a task. Just do some work on it. If you finish a task, cross it off the list.

            Else, Re-enter it at the end of the list, still crossing it off. Repeat this process – working in order – Crossing it off.

  1. Remember to go back to your list – to cross off every time, re-entering when incomplete – as you work. Crossing gives satisfaction too 🙂
  2. Repeat this process until you have only 2 tasks left on your list. Add another 3 tasks (fresh) and continue as earlier.
  3. Repeat steps 4 and 5 every time you are down to 2 tasks.


Worried that you will miss a hard commitment? Set a time reminder for it, taking it off your discretionary time.

The system works because it forces you to repeatedly ask yourself – what matters?

Next day is always a fresh list. On the same day, if things change too much, you can start the list afresh. Believe it or not – that is all!

At the end of the day, your task list shows what you have done in the day.

Ask yourself, is this what you wanted? Learn from it.

This is the gist of the first 10 chapters of this book. The book is a slim one and a jewel. If you liked the review, you’ll love the book and may even read it a few times 🙂