Review – How to be a Productivity Ninja

I’m not usually someone who “gets on” with psychology books, but after a recent course at work which touched on the Covey Model I really wanted to find out more about being productive.  It felt odd that the way you organise yourself and plan can have a massive impact on your performance yet this is never really “taught” in schools… or at least “Not in my day”.

I picked up “How to be a Productivity Ninja” from Amazon by Graham Allcott for several reasons – It was cheap (£6.99), it had 114 reviews at 4.3 stars, and the title sounded fun.  Most of all the title gave me the impression that this wouldn’t be a psychology text book, but a practical useful guide to optimising my work flow.

Thankfully I was right!  The book is very practical and sets out clear systems of working and tasks at the end of each chapter to optimise your current process and move forward into the ways of the productivity ninja.

A couple of parts of the book really struck home for me –

Email Management –

I hate having a full inbox, its too easy to procrastinate, things sink to the bottom and never get done, and it all seems overwhelming when you open it.  Graham Allcot’s method to this is simple but has revolutionised my day –

Create 3 Folders in Outlook (or whichever mail system you use)…

  • @Action
  • @Read
  • @Waiting

(the @ symbol pushes them to the top of your folder list)

From now on your Inbox is just your email landing pad.  When it comes to reviewng your inbox, go through the messages and take the following actions

  • If it can be resolved in less than 2 minutes do it now.
  • If you need to do something move it to your @Action Folder
  • If no action is required, but it will take more than 2 minutes to read (think newsletters, cc’s etc) move to the @Read folder
  • If you are waiting for someone else to do something, but you want to track this so that you can chase move to your @Waiting Folder.

Once you have done the above you will have reached the fabled place of Inbox Zero – But seriously, this means it is much clearer to see what is going on in your inbox.  You have a reading list which I usually look at on the train, an action list where you can schedule time to go through and reply / action these requests / add to your Project or Master Action List and a Waiting list where maybe once a week you can send out chasers, and these waiting emails no longer bulk out your inbox.

The CORD Model

For General productivity Graham Allcot proposes the CORD model.  In the past I have tried a number of methods, to do lists, various apps, JIRA, emailing myself.  Although I got things done there was no clear prioritisation, the easy jobs get done first and some of the longer term projects just get missed.

The Cord Model takes in the habits –

  • Capture & Collect
  • Organise
  • Review
  • Do

The organise habit is the one that has helped me the most, but is requiring focus to get right.  It is essentially a number of to do lists, the two key lists are

  • A Projects list – Which is anything which requires more than one action to complete.
  • A Master Actions List – Which gives the next available actions for each project.

This way when coupled with the regular review habit it is so much easier to see where you are.


I haven’t done the above justice in explaining these processes in full (you should buy the book for that 🙂 , there’s so much more detail, tips & tricks, and processes that will help you with productivity both at home and work.  I am just starting out with my CORD model and Ninja email process, but I will end up rereading the book several times to pick up what I have missed and refine further.

Pick up How to be a Productivity Ninja From Amazon

How am I doing?

I am a month into learning the ways of a productivity Ninja, my inbox is at zero and I’m setting myself goals each day which I am achieving.  Some of those often put off long term projects are getting done too, so all good so far!

Further Resources

In reading How to be a Productivity Ninja I’ve descovered several other useful resources

Toodledo – Toodledo is a To do list app (and much more) which is used by Graham Allcot (though he also recommends others).  I probably switch to do list Apps every month, but this is the one I will be sticking with.  I have found in the past that To Do list apps are either a bit basic, or their design just makes them unusable.  Toodledo looks much more familer to me in a business style somewhat similar to Outlook or Gmail.  You can create Folders, Status, Tags and more, and what’s great is if you don’t want to see a function you just turn it off in your settings and it completely removes it.  Toodledo is Web based and App based.  Try out Toodledo today!

Think Productive – Think Productive is Graham Allcot’s company.  2 specific resources are the Think Productive blog – which has more details on productivity methods, and is nice to dip in and out of.  Also he has a podcast – Beyond Busy in which he interviews different people about productivity, success, happiness and work / life balance.

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