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?

You have decided you want to take control and be more productive. Perhaps you feel the need to get more organized, make better use of your time, beat your procrastination habit, or you have goals but don’t know how to pursue them. Whatever reason, this series of articles will help you by revealing the fundamental behaviors that you should learn, master, and incorporate into your life.

Which would you rather learn?

  • How to wear earplugs to dampen the distraction of loud noises (productivity tip)
  • How to turn off the offensive noises at the source (fundamental behavior)

Wearing earplugs is useful but is limited in scope. Eliminating noises at the source removes the need for earplugs in the first place.

By learning productivity fundamentals instead of only productivity tips, you will enhance your focus, optimize your time, and improve your life. Now, let’s get started!



A Swarm of Flies

As you leave for vacation and approach your departure gate, consider one question:

Would you let a swarm of flies pilot your plane?

The answer should be obvious. (The answer is “No.” In case it wasn’t obvious!) Although you would never board such a plane, if the answer is so clear then ask yourself why you are allowing a swarm of flies to pilot your life?

Let us picture the scene.

The swarm just buzzes around the cockpit, randomly knocking into controls and causing the plane to rise and fall, speed up and slow down, and change course left and right. Sometimes, by chance, the swarm pilots the plane in circles. The plane is going no place.

Many flies will land and sit there in the cockpit doing nothing at all.

Most flies have little or no influence on the plane because they are simply too small. When they collide with the controls there is not enough force to move anything.

Most course alterations will occur when the large flies slam into something. They buzz around with far greater momentum and impact with higher energy.

Eventually, and inevitably, the plane is flown straight into the ground. If the plane is lucky enough to avoid crashing, then at best it will speed aimlessly through the sky until it simply runs out of gas.

That is not a very good start to your vacation.

Do not despair! All you have to do is find ways to manipulate the flies. Here are some ideas:

  1. Brush away the dead flies and the ones just sitting in the cockpit. They are useless.
  2. Use nets with a loose mesh to capture the largest flies while letting the small flies vent into the sky.
  3. Buy a fan, a funnel, and a plastic tube.
  4. Control the remaining swarm of large flies by directing them with your fan into the funnel and through the plastic tube. Now you can decide for yourself where to aim the tube. The flies now move the plane in the direction of your choice.

Believe it or not, you have just learned the first fundamental of holistic productivity! The flies represent all of your tasks. The net, fan, funnel and plastic tube serve as your task management system.

Controlling the swarm is to use your system. This is your responsibility. This is Task Management.

Everyone needs a solid system for managing tasks. Otherwise, your day, your week, your month, your life, will be filled randomly batting away the flies no matter how insignificant they are. This keeps you busy but your plane does not go anyplace.

Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

  1. Dead flies — Those tasks that you mean to do, but never will. It’s time to be honest with yourself and realize that although you want to convert all of your music cassette tapes to MP3s, you never will. Tasks like this would be nice to complete. But allowing them to linger, sometimes for years, creates a small amount of stress because you never do them. If you have a lot of dead flies in your pile, the amount of stress compounds. Admit this and eliminate these tasks to reduce stress.
  2. Big flies — These are your most important tasks. They are not the tasks that other people ask you to do. They are not the multitude of tiny tasks that you want to do. These are the tasks that have the greatest impact on moving forward toward achieving your goals. These are the tasks that you rarely make time for because you are busy batting away the little flies. So go ahead. Write your book. Start your business. Whatever your important goal is, you must make room for it. There will never be enough time to do everything, so you must make the hard decision to brush away the dead flies and keep only the large ones in your swarm.
  3. Net, Fan, Funnel, and Tube — This is your task management system. You need one. Nobody can effectively keep track of everything in their life without one. If you live without a task management system, there are negative consequences that impact your ability to focus and to produce great things. Use a task management system.
  4. Controlling the swarm — This is your life. It is up to you to control where it goes. Effective task management allows you to point your plane in the right direction so you can make progress toward reaching your goals. Otherwise, you are just moving around aimlessly through your life and you will never have time to do what is most important to you.

For a long time, I allowed my swarm of flies to pilot my life. Before I discovered the thrill of implementing effective productivity skills, I operated in a similar manner as many people do.

I did not use a task manager. Occasionally, I would write down a short todo list on a napkin just to relieve some of the immediate stress I was feeling from overwhelm. Needless to say, this was not enough to truly solve my problems.

It was not until I discovered how maintaining a todo list in a proper task manager (located on my first Palm Pilot) that I truly understood the first fundamental of holistic productivity. For the first time, I felt like I was making decisions on how to spend my time based on my own criteria. I was selecting tasks from everything I have committed to, not just the tasks I could remember in the moment.

Implementing this fundamental of productivity completely changed my life and made it possible for me to accomplish things I would have never thought possible.



To summarize, you must use task management. Reduce the number of tasks on your list to include only the most important tasks. This is fundamental because:

  • You will not feel stress from all of the tasks you think you want to do but never will.
  • You will not waste time on other people’s priorities.
  • You will not waste time on unimportant tasks that do not help you accomplish your important goals.

The Five Fundamentals of Holistic Productivity — Part I