There are five key areas of productivity that must be mastered in order to build skills that are both effective and lasting. Mastery of these skills will enable you to take full control of your life. I call these The Five Fundamentals of Holistic Productivity.

  • WHAT are the five fundamentals?
  • WHY it is essential to master all five fundamentals?
  • HOW do the fundamentals work together to elevate your work, your goals, and your life?

The story begins here:

Vegetarian Minestrone Soup

You repeated this many times. First you prepare to cook. Clear your countertops to make space. Fetch the cutting board, knives, strainer, pots, wooden spoons.

Next you fill your pot with vegetable broth and begin to heat it.

Wash the vegetables.

Dice the ingredients:

  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Zucchini
  • Green beans

Add the ingredients to the vegetable broth along with some basil, garlic, and bay leaf.


Stir occasionally.

Next add salt, pepper and macaroni pasta.

Simmer some more until the pasta is done cooking.

Clean up the pot and utensils.



While enjoying your soup, you look down and gasp as you notice a dead fly floating in your bowl! It must have come inside through the open window. It is tragic to see this fly’s journey end like this. Piloting a plane, playing musical chairs, and surviving a haunted mansion was not easy.

Losing your appetite, you sadly pour the rest of the bowl down the drain.

The Fourth Fundamental of Holistic Productivity

The fourth fundamental of holistic productivity is perhaps the most important. Habits form the foundation that allows us to be successful time after time. Without an understanding of how habits work and the skills to create new habits, nothing you learn about productivity will last.

If you cook often, you follow these steps automatically. You hardly think about it at all because it is a natural sequence. It would be unsettling to cut the vegetables on the counter and then wash them followed by taking out the cutting board.

Think about a toddler learning how to wash her hands. It’s hard!

  • First you must turn on the water.
  • Next you have to put some soap on your hands.
  • Get your hands wet.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub. Rub. Rub.
  • Rinse your hands in the water.
  • Dry with the towel.

There are a lot of steps to remember and it takes a while to learn it well. Think about yourself. Do you think through each of these steps as you wash your hands? Probably not. You just do it automatically. (At least, I hope so!)

That is the essence of habits.

When you cook you might need to refer to a recipe for specifics about ingredients or cooking time but most of your actions are habitual. The recipe does not tell you to wash the vegetables before you cut them. You know this automatically.

The same must hold true for effective productivity skills.

What’s the point in learning new productivity skills if you cannot sustain them?

As you learn new skills you will introduce new behaviors into your life. Unless you can make these new behaviors habitual, you will not be able to maintain them for a lifetime. You will wind up pouring them down the drain with your soup.

Why Vegetarian Minestrone Soup?

Because I love it. Yum!

I do not, however, like to cook.

Not all productivity behaviors, like cooking, will be desirable. If you love cooking, just imagine a different activity that you hate to do…

So you must like your goal. That is, you must deeply love your goal. When you do, it is much easier to adopt new habits even when the habit itself is loathsome.


I have previously written about how the habit of capturing my thoughts saved me after my wife gave birth to our daughter. That article focused on why it is important to always capture your thoughts. However, the true value in this story is in recognizing how I managed to continue to capture my thoughts while under the rule of a tiny tyrant (AKA my newborn daughter).

I’m no different from nearly everyone else. I don’t have some magical gene that gives me an advantage with productivity.

There is no “get organized” gene.

I continued to capture my thoughts and ideas as soon as I had them because that is the habit I have established. I don’t have to think about it. I just do it.

The capture habit, as well as many other productivity skills, has become a reflex for me. It does not take effort to maintain. In fact, it would be harder for me to make the effort to act differently than it is to follow through with the behavior that is established — write my thought into my inbox without hesitation.

I have turned highly effective productivity skills into invisible, natural, and habitual reflexes.

To ensure the greatest impact, I have identified certain keystone habits to establish. The capture habit is one such keystone habit. By focusing my efforts on the right set of behaviors, I can amplify the impact. This gives me the appearance of somehow being better organized and more productive.

Now, others think I have the elusive get organized gene.


There are numerous techniques for introducing new habits. Mastering habit formation is the foundation for mastering the other fundamentals of holistic productivity. Habits enable skills to become part of who you are. They make the effort of being productive invisible. They make your life better.

The Five Fundamentals of Holistic Productivity — Part IV