Our default approach to productivity is to think of increasing our output. How can we avoid distractions? The afternoon slump? Need less sleep?

Maximizing the use of our time makes sense. But it’s only part of the equation. All outputs aren’t equal, and we need to choose what to tackle and what to postpone or even abandon.

We must also decide when specific tasks need to be done. At first, this is easy; if you have a few minor tasks with deadlines, you can deal with them right away. Or your mind will remind you of it later on.

But this approach doesn’t scale well. If you’re dealing with a complex project or even managing a company, you’re continually managing large numbers of deadlines (taxes, payroll, development cycles, audits, etc.) or waiting to hear back from people by specific dates.

All your deadlines and dependencies add mental load. If you’re sometimes thinking, “oh, I need to do X before the end of this week” when doing an unrelated task, your mind is getting distracted. If you’re juggling enough responsibilities, your productivity will drop, and you’ll always worry about missing something.

The system

Every time you think of something you should do or follow-up on, add it to your inbox. When you have some time, you’ll go through your inbox to add deadlines or organize in projects (GTD is a good way to go).

If a task has a strict deadline, you add it. This way, you won’t be able to forget — no need to be stressed about missing a deadline anymore.

If you’re waiting for something, you delay the task until a later date. For example, if you’re waiting for a piece of information from your CFO, you create a task that you delay until the day the response is expected.

This simple setup has allowed me to free my mind incredibly. If I’m thinking of something I need to do, I write it down. There’s no need to worry about anything slipping through the cracks. Everything has a deadline. All tasks that I can’t act upon for now are hidden but will appear when needed. Your mind can stay calm.

I’m told I’m never stressed. A big reason is this system. It ensures I won’t miss anything I can control. As for the rest, I’ll late fate decide!