Adobe-full-color Adobe-white Adobe-black logo-white Adobe-full Adobe Behance arrow-down arrow-down 2 arrow-right arrow-right 2 Line Created with Sketch. close-tablet-03 close-tablet-05 comment dropdown-close dropdown-open facebook instagram linkedin rss search share twitter

Big Ideas

10 Realizations For Productivity & Pushing Ideas Forward

We've distilled years of research into ten tips for super-charging productivity and turning your ideas into action.

If we consider every idea as part of a project – and then consider all we must do to manage our various projects, we realize the many challenges standing in the way of productivity. As a company founded “to help organize the creative world to make ideas happen,” we believe that organization and productivity ultimately determine whether a brilliant idea ever actually happens. We have interviewed hundreds of the most productive individuals and teams in the world, and have discovered best practices across industries for managing everyday projects.

In this post, we will share ten of these discoveries that challenges the notion of typical project management.

Our years of research have caused us to question the status quo of everyday project management:

  • What if compulsive filing yields little benefit?
  • What if priority matters more than context?
  • What if the success of every project (and life) ultimately comes down to organizing actions you must take?
  • What if the design of the method we use for productivity influences our psychology for getting stuff done?

Questions such as these have led our team to some very important realizations:

1. Actions should be kept separate from email.

Email can kill productivity, because the actions you must take are buried in regular communication. An inbox full of email – even well-filed emails – still forces you to dig through every communication to find the hidden task. Tasks to be completed, or “Action Steps,” should have a management system of their own.

2. People should NOT share whole projects, just relevant items within projects.

Until now, all project management systems were made up of projects that were shared among different people. However, the way people really THINK about their work is more personal: we define our projects in our own terms – and it is rare that 100% of any project is relevant to all involved. Rather than share entire projects, we now have the technology to share just the relevant components of projects – action steps, reference items, discussions, milestones – and the recipient can then organize these components in a way that makes sense for his/her system.

3. Good design is great for productivity.

Through witnessing all of the elaborate systems for productivity, we realized that the most effective systems are distinguished by their design. It’s very simple: If a system functions properly and is attractive, you are more likely to stay loyal to it.

4. Actions are only truly “delegated” when they are accepted.

While many collaborative tools support “to-do lists” that multiple people can see, true accountability is never achieved unless the designee chooses to accept the action step that he/she has been given. The rise of social networks has taught us that control over what we accept from others (or who has befriended us) preserves the sanctity of any system.

5. A degree of voyeurism and transparency keeps us engaged.

Twitter and other online “activity feeds” prove that the future of communication is passive as well as active. Being able to tune in and search everything that happens around you is more valuable than getting emails or holding “status posting” meetings.

6. When it comes to taking action, work and personal life collide (and that’s ok).

People tend to separate the actions they must take in their personal lives from their professional lives. While formal “to-do” lists and applications empower you at work, your little post-it notes on your refrigerator keep you on task at home. But after observing the uber-productive, we have come to believe that action steps are action steps, regardless of their context. Priorities may change, but having everything actionable in one system is your best bet for anxiety-free living.

7. Darwinian productivity: The “nag” and natural selection.

As great as you think you are, nobody can nail prioritization 100% of the time. The truth is that the importance of a particular action step is sometimes demonstrated by how badly other people need it done. Typical project management systems and office environments assume that dividing tasks is enough. However, we have found that “nagging” plays a key role in productivity – the forces around us help determine which action steps are most important. Nagging should be a formal part of project management.

8. Appreciation is the greatest non-financial reward for achievement.

If you have a formal way to nag your colleagues when necessary, why not also show some formal appreciation when something is done well? We think that project management systems need to have a fully integrated appreciation mechanism that rewards productivity.

9. No more email-chains – make it a real discussion!

Ideas that are discussed via email often become cut-up, convoluted, and lost. They also fill up our inbox and consume our time as we try to parse it all out. Instead, what if you could start a discussion at any moment – share it with anyone in the world – and organize it within your own projects?  Technology now enables us to start, track, and search discussions online. It is time.

10. And if nothing else…ACTION ACTION ACTION.

Too many project management systems either exclude a “task” functionality or minimize its importance. The main page in an office system is often the deadlines, the project list, and more static data related to roles and responsibilities. However, we have found that the most productive creative teams eliminate a lot of the “overview,” and start with what needs to get done, and who is doing it. What if we managed projects STARTING from action steps before anything else?

Of course, the realizations we’ve shared above are relevant to any approach to managing projects. Even if you can’t change the way your company works, productivity is a personal pursuit that must allow for experimentation and (gasp) change when necessary.

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (7)
  • thejacob

    I live in South Africa. It says on your “Action Method Online” site that it will be coming late “Summer ’08”. When is that? When is your summer? <br />
    <br />
    I need “AMO” like yesterday.

  • polarbear

    Awesome idea guys. Really digginâ?? the screenshots

  • kaffa

    There’s rich irony in a product that promises to improve productivity but is behind deadline.

  • sbelsky

    Quick update: the product beta has been launched, and is being rolled out slowly… People are welcome to sign up at More people/teams are being added to AMO daily, and we expect full roll-out soon… -scott + team

  • RussLowe

    i’d love to see some discussion surrounding current market trends surrounding responding to an rfp with a rock-solid proposal, fee schedules, everyday business stuff that we all hate. sometimes it’s the difference between working hard getting work and working hard just to work hard.<br />
    any thoughts would be appreciated.

  • Rachel Z Cornell

    Very interesting. I have a special fondness for #7. Although, I don’t think old school nagging is very useful. In most cases, if people could do a task, they would have done it. If we are nagging someone to do something, it means they are having an issue with the task. 

    If, on the other hand, they didn’t realize the importance of a task or forgot about the task, a reminder nag is effective. 

  • Erin Larson,

    Hi, Scott-
    Love your points about the distraction of email! I even quoted you on our blog (… because your insight is something our readers need to hear!
    Thanks — Happy New Year to you!
    – Erin Larson,

blog comments powered by Disqus

More articles on Big Ideas

Illustration by the Project Twins
Female Athlete Gymnastics by Gun Karlsson
Painting Woman By Emily Eldridge
Two figures looking at painting