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Productivity hacks from around the world

A mother works on a laptop from her couch with three children sitting nearby also working and reading.

At a Glance: Choose the way you streamline productivity: 25-minute concentrated blocks of time, dedicated moments to reflect on your day or Post-it Notes to visualize your to-do list.

Yes, Americans love to get things done. But we haven’t cornered the market on productivity. Here are three popular and effective methods from around the globe (including one from the good ol’ USA) to help you maximize the hours in your day. See which one is most appealing to your personal work style — or go truly global and take a few weeks to put all three approaches to the test.

1. ITALY: The Pomodoro Technique

This model promotes working in 25-minute concentrated blocks and taking short, scheduled breaks to refuel.

Italian Francesco Cirillo developed the time management technique about 30 years ago. He used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato ("pomodoro" in Italian) to divide work into 25-minute intervals in an effort to focus and avoid distractions.

If you want to "go Pomodoro," start by choosing a single task, such as outlining a paper or organizing your kids’ schoolwork. Then set a timer for 25 minutes and work on the task until it rings. Next, take a short break of about five minutes — preferably leaving your work area to stretch or get a snack. After you complete four pomodoros, take a longer break.

2. UNITED STATES: The 18-Minute Technique

New Yorker Peter Bregman, author of "18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done," shares his time management approach with large companies throughout America.

Here’s how it works:

  • Take five minutes in the morning to think about what you need to accomplish that day. Then pull those things from your to-do list into your calendar and assign a time for each.
  • Next, set an alarm for every hour. When it beeps reflect on what you’ve done for one minute. Ask yourself: Am I doing the things I set off to do?
  • Finally, allow five minutes in the evening to review how the day went.

This framework helps you be more intentional about your day. By determining when you are going do something, you are more likely to do it. This approach will also help you be more realistic about your time.

3. JAPAN: The Kanban System

This scheduling system was first developed by the Japanese automaker Toyota, but can be adapted as a helpful time management tool in your own work and life.

The key is to visualize your reality — everything you need do at home, work and school. Decide what is most important and limit the number of things you do at one time.

Use a board to create three columns: "to do," "doing" and "done." Post-it Notes work well to write down your tasks. As you complete each task, move its corresponding Post-it to the "done" column. The Kanban System is great for working students, since you can display multiple projects on a single board using different colors.

The Kanban System forces you to focus, saves time juggling between projects and keeps you from feeling overwhelmed trying to remember all you have to do. Writing tasks down gets them off your mind and reduces stress. Eventually, as you learn how to focus your work on a few items at a time until they get done, you will accomplish tasks faster and streamline your productivity.


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