How to Build Productivity and Time Management Systems for Success

Last Updated on April 3, 2022 by Stephanie

Systems are the key to success.  They help you create time for the important things in both your work and personal life.  Putting systems in place will help you with time management and productivity more than anything else.

The Pareto Principle is the 80/20 rule that basically means that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of causes.  In other words, our biggest gains come from our 20%.  This applies to our time a lot in this day and age.  80% of our time is emails, mindless distractions, repetitive tasks, etc.  The actual work that needs to get done is only 20% of our time.  Now, what would happen if we created systems to deal with that all that stuff in the 80%?  We could work more efficiently, get more done in less time, not feel so stressed, and get ahead.  The list goes on and on for the benefits of creating systems and automatizing things in your life.

Person planning with computer, notebook, and phone; creating time for life; systems the key to success and productivity

What do you mean by a system?

A system is essentially a process that allows you to go through something more efficiently.  It helps you predict things, process things, and act without having to overthink every step.

A good example of a system I have in place is practicing my Inbox zero.  If you haven’t read my three-part series about inbox zero, check it out here.  That system of going through my emails and maintaining it means that I have two times in my day that I process emails. I know exactly what to do with each email type I receive, and I don’t have to question my process.

Another system I have in place is my weekly review, which I talk about here.  Every Sunday morning, I have a set of steps that I go through that prepare me for the week ahead.  It is so ingrained in my brain that I don’t have to think about the steps anymore.

Both of these things help me work through my day and my week more efficiently.  Instead of thinking about what I need to do, I already have an action plan set for me.  So much time in the day is wasted on deciding what to do that no action is taken.  Worse than that, we get overwhelmed by how much we have to do and we go for the quick gratification. Instead, we scroll through our phones, chat with coworkers, check our emails again, etc.

What systems do I need in place for ultimate productivity?

This is different for every person because our jobs and personal lives are all different.  There are four systems though, that I believe are universal and everyone can benefit from them:

  1. A morning/evening routine.
  2. A weekly review.
  3. A calendar.
  4. A running project/to-do list.

Let’s go through each of these briefly to understand how they can help you. Later, we will talk about what other systems you might need in place for you.

A morning/evening routine

I personally have a morning routine that I love.  You can read about it here in more depth. It consists of getting up early, doing some brief exercise, journaling, going through my task lists of the day, and getting my items ready before getting my daughter up.  Some people prefer to have an evening routine in place where they do some of those similar tasks.

A daily review of what you want to accomplish that day or the next can skyrocket your productivity.   By reviewing tasks the night before, you don’t have to waste time thinking about what to do.  Action is what gets results.  

Starting or ending your day with a routine can also quiet you before sleep or before the stress of the day ahead.  You can check out my post about 20 Awesome Habits To Add To Your Morning Routine for even more ideas.

A weekly review

This is similar to having a morning or evening routine.  Look here for an in-depth discussion about the weekly review.  During a weekly review, you check your calendar, get your inboxes to zero, check off things you did and look at every part of your to-do list, process any notes you’ve made during the week, and reflect on how things went.

This is something I learned from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and is not my brainchild. I highly recommend that book to everyone.  I cannot live without my weekly review now that it is in place.  It saves my butt week after week.  Nothing sneaks up on me and nothing slips through the cracks. More importantly, the unexpected things that pop up during the week do not stress me out.

Putting systems in place allows you to be automatic with so many tasks that when the unexpected comes up, you aren’t scrambling to figure out what to do.

A calendar

A calendar is only going to work if you use it, it is easily accessible, and you review it often.  If one of these things is not present, it is useless to you.  Things will sneak up on you.  You might miss appointments.  

Make sure you have a calendar system in place that will keep you on track and review it weekly.  Look ahead two weeks and look at the week previous. This will ensure you know the tasks you need to complete before or after appointments!

Running Project/To-do list

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love the app Todoist.  I’m going to do an entire post on my love for it soon.  Since discovering it, I don’t think I could ever use anything else.  You should have a running list of things you need to get done. You can use a pencil and paper, a planner, an app, or notes on your phone.

I like Todoist because it allows me to group things into projects. It also lets me put recurring tasks in so they pop up on my daily feed and lets me label and prioritize my tasks. No matter what though, like your calendar, there are a few rules or this is useless.  Your running list should be something you use, should be easily accessible, and you need to review it often!  My notebooks and plans are digital most of the time for this reason. That way, I can check them in GoodNotes on my phone as well as on my computer or iPad.  Click below for a free digital notebook. The notebook can be used in apps such as GoodNotes and Notability. It has 12 hyperlinked sections to organize notes easily.

Digital notebook; 12 hyperlinked tabs; 13 templates including: lined, dated lined, gridded, cornell, and more; picture of ipad with sectioned notebook; creating time for life

What other systems might I need?

Again, this is different for all people. There is a good way to help you figure out what systems you can benefit from.  Think about things that you do daily or weekly.  What can you do to make things easier? Is there technology you can use? Are there steps you don’t need to take each time? Can you do things ahead of time?

Here are a few examples from my own life:

I do a greeting of the day with my students at school.  After many mornings of me having to stop and think about it, I came up with a system.  I have a Google Sheet that I created with a running list of greetings.  When I start getting low on greetings, I sit down for 10 minutes and write out a bunch at once.  I can look up ideas on the web and generate a batch of ideas. Instead of thinking about it or having to look it up every single day, I think about it once or twice a month.  Every morning I open up the sheet, put the greeting outside my door, and color in the cell to show I’ve used it!

I’m working on my paying off student loans and saving up for future vacations.  After noticing that I am overspending on a LOT of different things, I came up with a system!  As part of my morning routine, I check my spending credit card and bank so I can log what I spent.  Of what I didn’t spend, I put 30% toward my student loans, 20% toward savings, and the other 50% to my slush fund.  Since it is a routine now, it takes me about 5 minutes every day of my morning routine. I’ve been able to cut my spending drastically and pay off an additional $75-$150 each month since I started!

Think about what you can do to make things easier.  Is there technology you can use to make it easier?  Are there steps you don’t need to take each time?  Can you do things ahead of time?

Woman working on computer with coffee and an open notebook.

What are other examples of systems and productivity hacks to put in place?

The main goal is that it makes your job easier and helps take you less time to accomplish.  This can be done in a variety of ways and sometimes thinking outside the box is what works best.

Break things up 

If you feel like cleaning the house on Saturday takes you all day and you dread it, don’t do it that way.  Do a load of laundry on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Vacuum downstairs after work on Tuesday. Taking just 10 minutes every day after work will save you 50 minutes that you dread on the weekend.  Small chunks of time can add up to big time saved.

Front load/get ahead

Sometimes sitting down and getting yourself ahead on things can help you tackle bigger tasks. This will keep you from getting stressed when things pop up.  Taking time to plan your week ahead, making sure you know what you need to do, and having things already set, is another time-saver.  This is why weekly meal planning helps so many people.


Are there things you do in the day to day that are similar to each other?  For example, with my blog, I will often create all my images for the post, Instagram, Pinterest all at one time. I’m using the same site and similar graphics for them, so it makes sense.  For teaching, I will plan all of my K-2 lessons for the next week at the same time because they are often doing similar things.


This is different from the running to-do list you should have.  Checklists are something I’ve created for several different tasks. This helps me get the work done and essentially turn my brain off.  For example, I have a checklist of items that need to get done for each blog post.  I don’t have to think about all I have to do each time because I have a list ready to go.

There are probably several other things, but you have to figure out what works best for you.  This brings me to the next point of systems.

What is the most important piece to successful systems?

Systems should be working for you and helping you get things done in less time.  This is the most important factor. Efficiency is key, so if you find that something is not helping you, don’t do it this way anymore.  If it is not working, change it!

If you create systems to help you manage your tasks efficiently it will affect your productivity in a big way. You will create time for yourself simply by knowing how long tasks should take you.  Notice how when I explained my budgeting strategy, I knew that it took me around 5 minutes to complete?  It’s because I do it every day, so I know.  You’ll know exactly what you can get done if you find yourself with a bonus 10 minutes in your day!

What systems do you already have in place?  Are there tasks you need help with?  Drop a comment below and let’s figure out some systems for you to tackle it all!

My shop has a set of productivity printables that can help get you on the right foot. With things like daily and weekly task sheets, habit trackers, and more, it is full of great templates to help you build these systems. Check them out here:

Productivity Printables

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