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Book Review – How to be a productivity Ninja

Last updated on maart 25, 2020

Time to read 4 minutes

In 2015 the world got to know productivity in ninja-style. Although what author Graham Alcott provides is nothing extremely new (compared to Getting Things Done), I’ve found How to be a Productivity Ninja a fun and highly practical read. It’s tone-of-voice is upbeat and enthusastic (as was in The End of Procrastinationand made me want to finish the book quickly.

Book specs

How to be a Productivity Ninja Book Cover

Title: How to be a productivity Ninja
Author: Graham Allcott
Publisher: Icon Books Ltd.
Year of Release: 2015
Pages: 368

About Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott is a community man. Before becoming a productivity trainer and educating people on time management and working towards a less stressful work day, Allcott worked for a few volunteering organisations. Youngsters have his heart too, as he advises youth organisations (both governmental and ngo’s) on a regular basis. He now leads Think Productive, a mutinational productivity training company. And the guy is interested in leaving his legacy to the world, as he wrote this book!

The general idea of How to be a Productivity Ninja

The title says it all. Get yourself a Ninja suit, go to work and slash any task that comes your way. No. Kidding. I like the comparison with a ninja though in one’s work life. In his book, Allcott explains what the key traits of a Productivity Ninja are (watch his Youtube channel to find out more). Furthermore, you should forget about time management – in this approach he both touches with and differentiates from GTD – and get yourself into ‘attention management’ or ‘energy management’. As we have to deal with a lot of emails these days, Allcott takes a sidestep and dedicates a full chapter about email management. It all comes together when he explains how to do it, with the CORD-model:

  • Capture & Collect – the art of capturing and collecting pretty much anything that crosses your mind.
  • Organize – Lists, lists, lists! And checklists to check up on your lists.
  • Review – activate your ‘boss’-mode and start deciding on your collected items.
  • Do – after reviewing, all that is left is to get going and complete the tasks.

Sounds easy enough right? Well, Allcott lavishly explains why it’s not so easy. The book also features a fine number of exercises to become a Productivity Ninja.

The CORD Productivity Model

To me, the Ninja traits are a nice feature of the book, but no more than that. Allcott makes very plausible arguments for the ninja traits – why you should ‘fight’ to, for instance, become more ‘zen like calm’. I do feel that acquiring these traits require their own self-help books. Meaning: not everyone is wired the same way. Nevertheless, it’s good advice. I found myself nodding a few times when reading about the traits (mostly when real life examples were explained).

Luckily for us readers, the true focus of the book lies on what Allcott really wants us to know about: the CORD Productivity Model. As mentioned above, the model is based on four parts. He starts with saying: design a capturing system with as little inboxes as possible. Also, it should eliminate most loose ends: thoughts which always come from nowhere, but stick in your mind like glue. They cause stress. Use any device you want (try not to use paper, Allcott says).

3 lists and a recurring review

Next, Allcott explains that you need three lists: a master to do list, a daily to do list and a project list. Although it sounds complicated when you say it like that, Allcott breaks it down into smaller pieces. He gives plenty examples of how to compose the lists (from simple to complex) and how to categorize them. He also argues that although the daily to do list is a common tool, it could be used better by most.

3 listsIf you have a well constructed master to do list, it’ll all be easier. In comes the ‘attention management’ argument. One way to categorize your to do list, is by your attention span. Which task needs your upmost attention, and which is somewhat dull to do? Wonderful tip on this – as an avid Microsoft Outlook user – is to use the priority markers in Outlook. Use the exlamation mark for tasks which need a lot of focus. Use the low priority marker is for the dull tasks. I am going to try that for sure. It’s a good ingredient for composing that daily to do list.

Allcott then moves on to, in order to fully enable your ‘Worker’-mode, your inner ‘Worker’ and ‘Boss’ should regularly have a sit down. He prefers to do a daily and weekly one, each with a different goal: the weekly review is for decisionmaking, to strategize and to continue your work on projects. The daily review is to create your daily to do list and should take about five minutes. All of this is to reduce have to decide on stuff during the day  – and let your worker DO things.


The chapter on ‘Capture and collect’ was nothing new, as I had crossed it when learning of Getting Things Done. I use several devices to get things on my one task list or inbox and made a habit of putting tasks in there as soon as I spotted them. When reading about the ‘Organize’ part of the CORD-model, I was taken aback a little: I thought my organization skills were pretty well developed, but I read a few new things about categorizing my tasks and projects. Like organizing your tasks to attention span and to location: where you can do your task.

Also, the review part of the CORD-model taught me a bit about doing a daily review: it provided such a complete sample checklist, I cannot NOT give it a try. The weekly review I was already familiar with, but Allcott got me thinking when he said: look ahead of your schedule up until three weeks from now. I now have a checklist for this review and am happy with it.

In essence, How to be a Productivity Ninja to me was an updated version of Getting Things Done and a well conducted one at that! Highly practical because of examples and exercises, well written (and well translated in my case) and it really touched everything I come across as an office worker. I recommend this read solely because of its practicality – and humour.

If you want to know more, here’s a few things for you to check out:

Published inFocus and Habits

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