Over 10,000 words on productivity – purposely randomized for your exploratory enjoyment! Which tip is your all-time favorite? Let me know in the comments below. Plus, if there is something I missed, I love to hear your productivity tips.
1. Write down your goals
Studies show that while people can learn in three different visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities, they prefer one of those over the rest. That being said, using all three still reinforces your ability to remember and focus on things. If you don’t know and are unfocused, you will waste time and be unproductive. Sure, you can keep using Asana or any other online to-do list manager, but spend some time writing out your goals longhand – you will do a much better job of remembering them.
2. Schedule Minutely
What do the busiest people in the world have in common? They understand that their time is precious and schedule every moment of every day down to the last minute. Busy and influential people, like the US President, many corporate presidents, and celebrities, have teams of people scheduling their every moment. They know precisely where and when they will be and for how long months in advance. Now, while you may balk at that level of scheduling, you can at least move a bit closer to that. Instead of most of your day being open and unstructured, try booking out all of your time, and when those times come, do what you are supposed to do in that time slot. If you need time to think about an upcoming presentation, book yourself a time slot to do just that. Try more fully to book yourself up and see your proactivity skyrocket.
3. Spend some time every day planning for the next day
Many of us go into days unsure of what the day will hold. Spend some time every day, typically at the end of each day, to play out the day tomorrow. You don’t need to be too exacting about this (unless you are a follower of the previous step). Pick just one thing that you will attempt to accomplish tomorrow, and write it on a post-it near your desk or wherever you work. Somewhere where you can see it. And then, once you have completed this, grab that post, crumple it up well and toss it in the trash with a flourish of a well-done job.
4. Get focused work done by shutting out all distractions
When I blog, I take my keyboard device and my noise-canceling headphones and sit out on the deck in the sunlight. Without the internet, my phone, or any other distractions, I play my “blogging playlist,” a fast-moving upbeat mix, and write and write. Cut out all distractions, focus on plowing through a singular task at hand, and get it done.
5. Go for a walk
Sometimes when you have been working on a problem for too long and are stuck surfing the internet or playing around, not being productive, get up from your desk and go for a walk around the block. Breathe in the fresh air, look at the sky and the trees, and say hi to the people you walk by. Just get away from your desk for a bit. This change of pace will not only recharge your batteries so you can think better and be more productive, but it can also help get you unstuck if you are working on a thorny issue.
6. Buy a writing device
If you are trying to get some writing done, I highly recommend buying a distraction-free writing device. You can go high-tech with something like the Free Write or something as low-tech as the Alphasmart Neo (get one cheap on eBay); either of these devices is a simple writing machine, which will allow you to focus on writing and writing alone. If you’d prefer to use your computer, there are many distraction-free writing apps out there; however, if you are anything like me, you need something like the Neo, which has no internet capability.
7. Use distraction-stopping devices and software
There is plenty of software out there that can keep you from going to sites that you waste time on – use them.
8. Learn to say No
If you haven’t learned this yet, you may understand why you are too busy and never get anything done. You need to reduce the number of things on your plate or not get new ones. Every time someone asks you to do something, STOP and THINK. Do you have the time to do this new thing well? If not, just say so. Just say no. If you can’t say no, then at least give an honest assessment of when you might be able to complete the task. If I told people that, I wouldn’t even be able to look at things for at least two weeks when I’m in crunch time. Typically they are ok with it and book the time. But if not, at least you have given them an honest answer.
9. Listen to Podcasts or Audiobooks in your car instead of music
What are you doing in the car? Are you screaming at the bad drivers, bopping to your favorite tunes, or are you learning a new skill? The vehicle is the perfect place to “read” books and get up to speed on the latest. Make your commute a productive learning experience.
10. Speed Up Your Audiobook
Most audiobook and podcast players have speed control – use it! Most authors in these books talk too slowly for me – maybe they speak too slowly for you as well. Find a reasonable speed (1.25 at the minimum, two at maximum) where you can still understand what they are saying and digest the information.
11. Use every spare moment available to work
Why are you watching TV? Why are you watching a goofy YouTube Video? Every moment that you spend doing something unproductive IS A MOMENT LOST FOREVER. You simply cannot “make up time.” Time is just gone. That’s it. No matter how hard you try, you can never get that moment back. So stop wasting time and get back to work. With the technology at our fingertips, you can work anywhere at any time of the day or night. Can’t sleep? Get to work. Are you waiting for the doctor? Get to work. On the bus? Get to work. Is nothing stopping you from working every waking moment and reading this blog post? Stop immediately and get to work.
12. Use every spare moment available to think about nothing
Sometimes you need to empty your brain and do absolutely nothing. Set a timer, close your eyes, just breathe deeply, and try to empty your mind of all thoughts. Don’t think about where you are, what you are doing, or what problem you are focusing on. Just think about nothing. Purposely try to put all thoughts out of your head.
13. Kill your Feed
Those apps which “feed you,” like Facebook and Instagram? Think of them as time-sucking drugs that are constantly feeding your emotions and sucking you in. They are continually reading what you are looking at and giving you more and more addictive content the more and more you use them. The best way to use those apps is not to use them at all. Remove them from your phone, and if you must use them, use them sparingly and, most importantly, set a time to make you stop.
14. Automate as much as you can
We all have hundreds of little things we do every day, week, month, and year. If you can figure out a way to automate those things – do it. Automate your bill pay, your lights, and absolutely anything you can. Automate your shopping – if you know how much milk you go through in a week, then have it auto-delivered. Look at your entire life and see what can be automated, then do it.
15. Wear the same clothes every day
Jobs did it; Zuckerberg does it. You should do it too. Instead of wasting your cycles trying to figure out what to wear each day, just come up with a “uniform,” some set of clothes that you look good in, and just wear the same damn thing every day (except for specific occasions). If you are jeans and hoodie guys, get a bunch of those and wear them every day. Do that if you are a white shirt, jeans, and jacket guy. Just pick one single outfit and wear it all the time.
16. Eat the same breakfast every day (also a good weight loss plan)
Do you need to think about every meal? Some meals can just be sustenance – why not just eat the same thing, day in and day out? For example, your go-to AM meal could be oatmeal, Greek yogurt, or a spinach omelet. Think of the time and cognitive cycles you will save by eating the same meal every day. Sure it might be boring, but if you always have the ingredients in, you don’t need to spend time and cycles thinking about it, thus saving that time for other, more important things.
17. Go elsewhere – the library, coffee shop
Sometimes wherever you happen to be is the distraction – if you are at work, most people are in open offices with people always milling about – if you are working at home, maybe you see all of the housework you need to do. Pick up your stuff, throw it in your car on your back, and head to the nearest coffee shop or library and work from there. Studies show that switching locations not only improves productivity; it can also enhance creativity.
18. Get a good pair of noise-canceling headphones
Get a good pair of noise-canceling headphones and put those on when you want to focus on a task. If I had my way, I would wear those all the time.
19. Put together a “work” soundtrack and a “focus” soundtrack
This may or may not work for you, depending on how music affects you – I use music to speed up and focus – whenever I need to focus on powering out a set of blog posts or a report, I take my writing device, my noise-canceling headphones, put on my blogging playlist, zone out and power out my writing. I then go back later and edit it, but when it comes to pure pushing it out of my head and onto the paper, nothing beats a hard-driving beat. For you, it might be a more chill soundtrack – I use Spotify to put together my unique blend, but there are thousands of other soundtracks that you can try and customize to your individual needs. Or, if you want to chill, I highly recommend a selection from SomaFM.com in San Francisco; my favorite stations are Groove Salad, Lush, and Illinois Street Lounge. If you like their music, toss them a donation, it’s all free stuff.
20. Plan your work and work your plan
How many of you have no plan at all? I’m all for going through life in an agile way; after all, I’ve written such doozy’s as “Stop Planning Now” and other posts which talk about getting rid of planning altogether (in some cases, is it warranted). However, if you want to be productive, you still need to figure out what you want to produce! How will you know if you are successful if you don’t know that? At least spend some time planning your work daily, then work on your plan.
21. Use GTD – if it’s < 2 minutes, do it now. Otherwise, book it.
I love the Getting Things Done methodology – when it swept Silicon Valley, I got swept up in it as well, and it is still a very valid way of doing business. Simply put, if a task comes across your desk that you can complete in less than 2 minutes, just do it. Suppose you can’t then schedule a time to complete the task on your Calendar. Very useful for most things.
22. Stop watching TV
Seriously. At last count, there are studies out there that say we consume up to 3+ hours a DAY just sitting back and watching TV. What do you get out of that? Sure we say that we might like to “relax” and “veg-out” in front of the TV, and it might benefit us to relax and de-stress. But 3 hours a day? Think about all of the time you are wasting doing this instead of writing a blog post, emailing a potential client, reading a book, or watching a YouTube video to learn something. You must pare back your complete leisure watching of TV back as far as you can. Is your life so stressful that you NEED to watch that much TV?
23. Stop going to movies
The Last Jedi was over 2 hours long. Add in getting to the theater early, finding parking, buying tickets, popcorn, soda, watching the trailers, watching the movie, grabbing food, finding your car, and going home; you are talking most of if not more than HALF A DAY of your life. Now, do you think that is the best use of your precious time? Unless you need to see the film for your job, then it’s not that important. Ask yourself, do I need to spend so much time watching movies?
24. Stop reading the paper or following politics
Think of the paper as a paper version of the “feed” I described earlier. Do you need to spend your time reading other people’s opinions designed to drive your emotional engagement, either stroking or enraging you? Life is too short. Same for politics. Does the fact that you follow this political party or another contribute to your productivity in any way, shape, or form? Does being outraged by Donald Trump help you get new customers, complete that report, or write that book? Does being offended by his opponents, “fake news,” or any other news help you in your life at all? Take my advice: FORGET ALL GENERIC NEWS AND POLITICS. Read news focused on your specific industry and nothing else if required, and only if needed. Stay away from getting sucked into politics.
25. Stop reading Reddit
Reddit is just like TV and any other feed. Empty, emotion-driven entertainment. You learn nothing.
26. Stop watching YouTube videos or Netflix unless you are trying to learn something
Someone once told me that the “Skip Intro” feature that Netflix just added to their offerings should win the Time Person of the Year award. Seriously? Both viral YouTube videos and binge-watching Netflix provide unproductive time-wasting hours. Exactly what you need when reaching lofty goals of building a successful business, writing a book, winning a gold medal, or any achievement you are striving for. Our world is full of distractions designed to grab your attention – the most valuable thing you own. Don’t let them take that away from you.
27. Customize a newsreader tool only to give you the news you need
Some folks do need to read the news, or a specific kind of news, simply to do their jobs. For those people, it is essential not to veer off the track and focus only on the news, which is critical to you. To that end, use a newsreader that you can customize to your specification and not even allow the rest of the world’s news to invade you.
28. Remove bad actors from your teams
While increasing your productivity is a challenge, increasing the team’s productivity is even more of a challenge. In my experience, the primary reason teams are unproductive is due to weak links, members who refuse to pull their weight on the side no matter what. Some people work harder in groups, not allowing themselves to be shown as weak team players. Others relish being on a good team since they can slack off and let the rest of the team take up the slack. You can remind them, shout at them, cajole them, and sic their boss on them, but they cannot be budged in some cases. In these cases, when you see the team’s productivity drop, don’t be afraid to replace them on the team.
29. Stop complaining
How much time do you spend complaining about something that did not go your way? Since we cannot change the past, spending time complaining about wrongs, be they justified or unjustified, will not change what has happened. There is little upside to complaining, and many downsides in lowered mental states, time lost in complaining, and instead of focusing on how one can improve, the focus is on nothing that can be changed. Think back over your life – how much time have you lost complaining to others. Does it make you feel better to unload on others? You are the same person you were before, and complaining does not bring you any further ahead after the complaint. Stop complaining, and do something productive instead.
30. You are a role model, like it or not
Like it or not, the mere fact that you exist in the world makes you a visible role model for others. As long as others can see and hear you, they can observe your actions and judge if you are worthy of following. Never mind if you are the boss, and people need to follow you to keep their job, you are still being observed in every social situation. For example, the other day, I learned that there was a whole company in the Philippines, and the CEO watched my videos. It was a funny feeling thinking that my few YouTube videos profoundly affected a company on the other side of the planet. You never know who might be watching, listening, or reading.
31. Stop wasting time thinking about the past – it’s done
As a corollary to the complaint point above, stop thinking about the past. Stop thinking, “if only I’d” Stop regretting any decisions that you made in the past – since they were probably the right decisions at the time. The past is the past; there is nothing you or anyone can do about it. Sure, learn from the past, but never look back with longing or regret. What’s done really is done, and you can never go back.
32. Start thinking about the future – it’s the only thing you have some control over
Speaking of time frames – start seriously thinking about the future. If you want to increase your productivity gains, it’s important to partially plan your future. To plan your future, you must think about your future and where you what to be – to set goals – and determine your success metrics when it comes to those goals.
We spend a lot of our time moving objects from place to place and looking for them. Unless you have a perfect photographic memory, you will always spend an inordinate time looking for things without a way to organize things. In fact, a great organizational system can easily shave off a ton of searching time. Additionally, a cluttered desk can also cause you a certain level of cognitive stress. While there are tons of systems out there, any of which is right for anyone, I suggest you try a few different systems until you come to the right one – hopefully as quickly as possible. For example, while I swear by GTD, others like other systems, like Marie Kondo’s. They are all different and work differently for different people. Try them out and see which works best for you. Even the “throw everything on the lawn” tactic only brings back what you truly need into the house.
34. Carve out time for your passion
While many of us spend most of our days working on things that may pay the bills but not fire up our passion, it is essential to carve out some time every day to work on our passion project. Otherwise, you may literally go mad! Some so many people simply go through the motions of life day in and day out. These people can survive, but can they truly live? This is why people turn to drugs (both non-electronic and electronic), alcohol, and binge-watching TV or YouTube, for something to do to release them from the essence of a soulless existence. Try this instead: try swapping any or all of the above for a chunk of time working on your passion project. Something that you really enjoy doing. Even if it doesn’t make you any money, as long as you enjoy it and are passionate about it, I say dump your unproductive efforts and do it.
35. Work less
It May sound counter-intuitive, but while working too much may get you to your goals sooner, you may make more mistakes and be less careful. Purposely working fewer hours might help improve your creativity. Not only that, but studies have shown that work will expand to fill the time allotted. If you purposely give yourself less time to do something, you may find that the compressed timeline allows you more rapidly to complete tasks in time. Steve Jobs is famous for providing ridiculously short timelines to his engineering teams, but they always pulled through at the end. It wasn’t just Steve’s reality distortion field; if the team could be made to believe that it would happen, then it would happen. You have a much greater capacity to complete work faster than you think. If you purposely work fewer hours, then the work can compress to fill the time allotted, not the other way around.
36. Get enough sleep
Sleep is the new thing – even though sleep has always been the thing. Even though our hard-charging culture constantly talks about superhero entrepreneurs who never seem to sleep, project teams, and work through every night and weekend, everyone waking up at 4 or 5 am and going to bed at 1-2 am is simply not the best strategy for productivity. The human brain needs rest and especially sleep to be as sharp and productive as possible. Shoot for at least 7 hours of continuous sleep.
37. Have fewer meetings with fewer people
Meetings are typically the biggest time wasters, and few are truly necessary. If you can do something about the number of meetings or the number of attendees or both – do so. Or even have shorter meetings – is there a real need for meetings to be exactly 60 minutes or 30 minutes. I book the shortest possible meeting with the fewest possible people right in the middle of any other meetings that they might have to ensure that nothing runs long. If you are running the meeting, feel free to be a hardass a make sure that people stick to the agenda.
38. Always have an agenda and stick to the agenda
Always have an agenda for every meeting, which you circulate at least 24 hours before the meeting. Give people enough information to decide to determine if it is worth their while to attend. Feel free to cancel the meeting if you cannot pull in the key personnel you need. Always come at meetings from a value proposition angle – is it really worth it to gather all of these people into this meeting for this length of time? Think of the time value of all of these people in this meeting and if you will be able to extract enough value. Additionally, during the meeting, constantly look for this – if a discussion is off-topic but is still adding value – let it go and guide it to a conclusion – or if it’s going off track – book another meeting with a subset to discuss.
39. Put your phone away
There are times when your phone is an essential business tool, and there are times when it’s a huge time suck. If you are having trouble regulating your phone use and sucking up your productive time in non-productive tasks, just put the thing away. If you can’t do that, go ahead and delete all applications from your phone which suck up your productivity. Go on, do it now. I can wait.
40. Stop surfing randomly, AKA Surf MINDFULLY
While the internet has basically been designed from the ground up for random browsing, try to detect when you have strayed from the productivity path you have set for yourself when you are browsing the net. The moment you open up an internet browser, you should kick your spidey sense into high gear: Is this important? Does this page help me with my research/core vision? I’m getting what I need? Am I wasting time? Basically, you need to take your mindfulness training and apply it to the unsafe space, the internet browser.
41. Sense yourself – how do you feel, and what do you feel that you can tackle right now – fit the work to the feeling
For this task, you need to try to sense yourself, be in tune with what works best for you right now, and only undertake that task. For example, let’s say that, like most people, you are most awake, aware, and alert at 10 am. If that is the case, don’t schedule some boring meeting at that time; schedule something more challenging or fulfilling. Use the best time of day for each task – don’t push your most challenging tasks to the afternoon when you are most tired. If you have to do random, mindless paperwork, do it when you maybe not be as sharp. The key is to detect your current mental state and match the state to work. If some of the work needs to be postponed until you are in a better mental state, then so be it.
42. Procrastinate Strategically
There are some cases where you will want to delay a task purposefully because you know that once you complete the task, then follow-up work from that task will occur, requiring a certain amount of work in response. For example, I know one colleague will ask me for additional work once I contact him. So I ensure that I contact him when I have a window to perform the additional work. A strategically procrastinate in my response to have free time right after I contact him, just in case additional work is forthcoming. If the work doesn’t come, then all the better.
43. Work when no one else is
This is a holdover from the days when I used to run IT organizations. Usually, many of my colleagues at my clients would take time off over holiday breaks. I found that is the most productive time for me – as I mentioned in my 4 am post, one of the best times to work is when no one else is working. It may be a sad commentary, but paraphrasing Sartre, sometimes “time-wasting is other people” There is nothing like stepping into an almost empty office and solidly focusing on work, with no distractions of other people asking you to do this or that. If you have a solid set of work to do, try NOT taking time off over the holidays, like your co-workers – you will be surprised by what you can get done.
44. Work where no one else is
A corollary to the above, getting away from “people distractions” could take you away from the office or away from home (wherever your main workplace is) – go to a coffee shop or library – or somewhere where there are no other people around. Even a park might work, as long as you have a decent internet connection. Sometimes I find that the city hall’s lobby in your nearest town has great internet, and it’s not a bad place to have a conference call, as long as you are not too loud.
Being in better physical shape can also greatly improve your productivity. There is a direct connection between your fitness and energy level to do work, whether or not you have a physical job or not. Simply being more fit will let you work longer and harder.
46. Use a paper planner and ink – commit yourself
As I’ve made in some of the points above, writing things into a paper planner and ink will help you commit to tasks and follow through with them. Additionally, the added benefit of using all three sensory modalities in the writing process will help you to remember the tasks themselves.
47. Use an electronic planner – Google Calendar, Calendly, and other tools
While a paper planner is great, you also need an electronic one that you can use to book calls and meetings with others. I personally use Google Calendar, which has more or less become a standard. You can use add-ons like Calendly to send people your availability dates so that you can book meetings. ALWAYS book meetings. Even if your meeting attendees do not use Google Calendar, their own systems should readily convert a Google Calendar invite to whatever system they use.
48. Everyone uses webmail – if you want to delete quickly and deal with mail, use an application
Most people use a web-based email solution, but those are terrible at mass deletion. Take my advice and if you are looking to perform mass cleanup of those emails, use a client. It doesn’t matter if you use Outlook, Thunderbird, Astro, or any other email client out there. If you set up a client, you should be able to rapidly delete many emails. I use the “Sort By Sender” feature to quickly group emails into batches, which allows me to rapidly determine if these emails come from a source I care about. It’s a great way to unsubscribe as well. Once you’ve highlighted the offending emails, just delete them, and they will disappear from webmail as well
49. Plan a weekly menu
Everyone’s gotta eat: you can either grab fast food every day or take a few minutes to plan and map out your week of meals, buy everything you need, and have it ready. Some people I know cook once a week, freeze their meals and eat over the course of the week. Or, if that’s too much, subscribe to a meal service that can bring you healthy meals directly to your house.
50. Go to sleep at the same time every night
I used to sleep in on the weekends, and it really messes up my sleep schedule. Your body doesn’t really know the difference between the weekdays and the weekends. Do it a favor and try to go to bed at the same time every day. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to have a standard nighttime routine that cuts out all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before lights out. You can always read a paper book or Kindle for those last 30 minutes before you turn out the light.
51. Wake up at the same time every morning
As above, it’s the same for the AM. Try to wake up at the same time every day – don’t use snooze, and get out of bed and stretch. Try to create a morning routine, including exercise, meditation, planning, journaling, etc.
52. Read your mail over the recycling and trash can
Every moment counts – why to bring your mail in to read it when most of it is bound for recycling anyway – save the trip.
53. Return any gifts you don’t like for ones you like
From the desk of Marie Kondo – your home is filled with gifts that you might feel like you don’t want to get rid of, but the gift was in the giving. The gift fulfilled its purpose of giving when it was given to you. If you don’t use it now, it doesn’t bring you joy now, then give it away to someone else. It’s just another thing you have to move (or walk around) while looking for something else. Return it, regift it, or Goodwill it. Let someone else get some joy out of it now.
54. Double batch your food for freezer leftovers
When you cook, make too much on purpose, and freeze the rest for a meal later in the week. When you buy a rotisserie chicken, make it stretch to three meals (a day of chicken salad and bone broth) that save both time and money.
55. Book and group your medical appointments in the same week
Doctor’s appointments are always a pain to book and to get to and back from. If you can, attempt to book appointments in the same areas on the same day. Try and chain them together like you would on a shopping trip.
56. Spend time thinking
If you have a hectic day, as I do most days, think simply sitting and thinking is at a premium. Book it ahead of time and put yourself in a quiet room with a pad of paper, a pen, or a whiteboard. Stare at the paper or the whiteboard and just write anything that comes to mind. Maybe take James Altucher’s advice and write down five ideas. Or maybe “6 impossible things before breakfast” (although I usually shoot for improbable)
57. The 50-page rule for books
I just learned this one the other day, and as an avid reader, I love it. I don’t like not finishing books, no matter if they are fiction or nonfiction. Even if the book is not that good, I keep pushing through. Now, if I’ve read 50 pages of a book and I still don’t want to continue, it’s a natural place to stop. Most books today are oversized blog posts disguised as books anyways; they rarely have enough content to fill their 200-odd pages and are full of filler.
58. Learn to Speed Read
I have tried, with some success, to improve my reading speed, and in some cases, I can rip through business books in a few hours (especially those that are nothing more than extended blog posts). By all means, devour a good book slowly now and then, but not all books are meant to be savored. Learn and use a few speed reading techniques, like scanning more than one word at a time, trying not to read the entire paragraph or page if you get the point, etc.
59. Have a daily standup with yourself every day
Torn from the pages of Agile Software Development, the daily standup is a daily team meeting where everyone goes around the room (typically first thing in the morning) and reports (while standing) three things: 1) what you did yesterday? 2) what you plan on doing today? 3) if anything is stopping you from doing what you plan to do today? Do this with yourself, in the morning, in the mirror, as soon as you wake up. You’ll find that it’s a great way to reset your intention for the day. Don’t read off a list of things; just focus on the most important items you must finish.
60. Make a tax file for all docs coming in for tax year time
When you get home from Black Friday shopping, label a folder “Tax” and the next calendar year on Thanksgiving weekend. As your tax documents start coming in, start putting them directly in this folder. By February, all of your documentation should be ready to go.
61. Delete it
Look at the next task on your list. Do you really need to do that? Will it help you to progress forward towards your goals in life? Will it really take you to the next level? Is it something that you really need to do? If not, then you have full permission just to delete it. If you don’t have to do it, then simply don’t. Also, try not to spend too much time agonizing over your decision to do it or not – just make a judgment: is completing this task in line with my goals or not? If no, delete.
62. Worst First
You probably have a long list of tasks to do. Some say to do the easiest first, just get those over with. I say the opposite – do the worst first. Get them over with first, and the rest is easy. This is why I always want to be the first in line to do anything that I dread. Another trick when you are dreading something: focus on what you will do AFTER this thing you are dreading. I hated going to the dentist when I was younger, but then when I focused and visualized my life in the afternoon after the visit, either having lunch or studying or working, the dread lessened. Focus on your life AFTER the event, whether you are speaking to a crowd, bungee jumping, or making sales calls; it’s a great way of past something you are dreading.
63. Peak Times
Everyone has times when they are at their best and most focused during the day – some people are night owls and do their best work at night – others do it first thing in the morning. Most people don’t hit their stride until 10 am – what is your prime time? When are you most productive and alert? At what time of the day do you feel so energized that you can just keep going and going? Figure out that time of day and use it to your advantage – do your most important work then, and leave the drudgery to the rest of the day.
64. No Comm Zones
When you really need to focus on a task, create a “no communication” zone where you go to a place where you can work completely undisturbed by any incoming communications – whether it’s over your phone, computer, or in person. Block off the time, get into that cone of silence, and don’t stop until you get what you need.
65. Set Timers
You can’t do it alone! We all need timers and reminders to do things. Setting a timer on a task (especially a large one you are procrastinating on) will get you started on the task. You can decide to keep going or stop when the timer goes off. Want to go for a 30-minute walk? Set a 15-minute timer when you leave, and just keep walking straight ahead. When it goes off, turn around and head back.
66. Get up earlier, or stay up later…
This one is not fun for the night owls, but it works. In fact, this combines a bunch of ideas in one – get up early enough, and no one will bug you, you will be working when no one else is, and you’ll love it when you’ve almost completed a full days work by the time everyone else is just getting up. I used to be a total night owl, and then I got a project where I needed to be up at 430 every weekday for an east coast client. I got more done in those four and a half hours before 9 am than I ever had; the peace and focus I could have were worth it. Of course, you’ll need to get to bed earlier (it’s tough for a night owl to hit the sack at 930, but it’s doable. Now, if only someone could come up with a way to get 8 hours of sleep in 4… You can also always stay up later – however, you may not be as refreshed and ready to work after a full day. It might work for some of you.
67. Cone of silence
Sometimes silence is all you need. Turn off the music. Turn on your noise-canceling headphones and put them on. Forget the world around you.
68. Cone of Music
69. Face the wall
What are you looking at? A meditation trick many Zen masters suggest for newbies who can’t focus or close their eyes (since they might fall asleep) is the just stare at a blank wall. Turn around, get on that meditation pillow (or block), and just stare at the blank wall. Think about the wall and its blankness. Try and make your mind mimic the wall. Do this for 10 minutes.
70. Mind the gap – have something ready to read in those moments of free time
We all have gap time – prepare for it by having something to read or constructive to do at all times. I don’t mean watching Netflix or dumb Youtube videos. Why not listen to podcasts and motivational speakers, or read a book on your Kindle app. I’ve been told that Stephen King is such an avid reader that people have seen him walking and reading a book, waiting in a line at the movie theater reading that book, closing the book only when the movie starts, and then reopening it the moment the lights come up. He doesn’t waste any time – he knows that every moment is important and precious – so should we.
71. Plan tomorrow tonight
What are you doing tomorrow? Take a moment at the end of each day to jot down the one or two most important things you must do by tomorrow. Then use those in your daily standup tomorrow.
72. Physically move
How long have you been sitting/standing at your desk? If it’s more than 20 minutes, get a coffee, go for a walk, get some water, something. Set a time to remind yourself to get up and move around. Even a little gets the blood flowing, and your brain started.
73. Pick something random from your list
Sometimes your lists are so large that you have no idea where you should start. So just pick something at random and start there. Do that, then do some more. Note that you are still moving towards being totally done.
74. Have a consolidated list, use it or lose it
I use Asana for my personal and work to-do lists, and I religiously use that list every day. Everything I need to do goes on the list. If it is not on the list, it will not get done. Period. If someone wants me to do something, they either put it on the list for me or add it. If it’s not on the list, then IT DOESN’T EXIST.
75. Do the same with your Calendar
As I work with several clients, I need to keep a master calendar of everything I need to do and everyone I need to meet. It includes a work calendar, combined calendars for each client, and a personal calendar. I maintain it religiously, color coding each item by the client. This works the same as the above if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist. Think of it this way – when you write the event in your Calendar or the item on your to-do list, you have permission to purge it from your brain so that that amazing processing power can be used for something else. Set it and FORGET IT.
76. Just start a big project by doing one small piece of it
There are many cases where you need to do something huge – no matter what it is. You have a major project that you really need to get going on – whether it’s writing a book, buying a house, or getting a new job, but you are just procrastinating because you simply feel that it is just too big a task to perform. In my experience, every huge task can easily be broken down into many smaller tasks, each of which can be completed and at least move you even slightly towards your big goal. For example, if you want to write a book, just start taking notes for the book. Open up a Google Doc, Word, or your favorite word processor, and just start taking notes. If you have a blog, write blog posts (most books nowadays read like a string of barely interconnected blog posts) to eventually expand them to book form. Just start with a small piece of something and do it daily until you either get there – or get enough behind you to think that the task is much smaller than you thought.
77. Get someone else to do it – delegate
What are you doing right now? Other than reading this post and sharing it with your friends because it is probably the most useful blog post you will read in 2018? Think to yourself, whenever you are doing anything that you feel is busy work or something that you just don’t enjoy doing, can you possibly delegate it to someone else? Do you have a report that you can give to me? Other consultants? Can you farm it off to Fiverr, Upwork, or any of those myriad sites? Sometimes it makes a lot of sense to just give to someone else to do.
78. Stop and think about the alarm
As I mentioned earlier, it makes sense to leverage technology to de-tax your brain – why not use the same tech to tell you when it’s time to think. Set a time, ideally daily, when you can just block out time to think. I read somewhere that Bill Gates does this once a year – once a year, he just goes off and spends a week thinking. While most of us don’t have the time or resources to take a whole week to do this, it will help you empty your mind at least once a day. You can even combine this with your daily meditation.
79. Use Post Its in your field of vision
How do you remember everything that you need to do each day? Most of us feel we have the willpower to remember everything we need to do. Reminders, to-do lists, and calendars are all that we need to ensure that we get stuff done – and we think that Post Its and other visual reminders are from a bygone, pre-electronic age that we have gone far beyond. However, if it’s on your computer or your smartphone, it’s not front and center in your face.
80. Get Physical
Some people place their exercise shoes and clothes besides their beds so that they will trip over them if they get out of bed. Others place their alarm clocks or smartphones with alarms on a far table so that they will be forced to get out of bed to turn them off. Sometimes forcing yourself to move physically or blocking yourself from doing something physically may be all the reminders you need to force you to do something.
81. Constantly revise your plans
Life is change. Embrace it. Plans are great, and all but none of us can really accurately predict the future (even we futurists have a tough time of it). So since life is always changing, then you must be ready to change your plans at a moment’s notice. Studies show that those who seem luckier in life aren’t really all that lucky. They are more observant about the world around them and are more willing to change their plans when they sense opportunities. If you are barreling across campus to get to a lecture that you had plans to see, you might miss the poster for the seminar featuring a topic you might even be more interested in. Opportunities come up in life all of the time; you need to be open and flexible with your plans, just in case you need to change them.
82. Use a site blocker
How many minutes/hours/days do we waste fooling around on sites that do not help us at all? When we have a spare moment, do we use that productively, helping us get to our goals, or do we just goof around on YouTube? If you find that certain sites really suck up your time, buy and use a site blocker to keep you from going to those sites. Don’t waste your precious time.
83. Turn off your router or wifi
The internet is the greatest boon to humankind and the worst. It can be the worst time-suck ever. If site blockers don’t work, and you turn off the wifi on your computer but still have the wifi on your phone, then shut it all down. Shut down your router, put your phone in airplane mode, lock it in a drawer (or safe) and enjoy the quiet solitude of being fully offline. It’s actually pretty liberating.
84. Hide your phone
As mentioned above, most people’s phones are a lifeline to the rest of the world. But, as above, they can also be an even bigger time suck than your computer. The best bet here is to put your phone away, preferably somewhere far away. Ideally, put it in airplane mode before you hide it so that you won’t be distracted by the buzzing and ringtones.
85. Delete that app
Everyone had that one app that they use whenever they have a few spare moments to kill. You don’t learn anything from it; it’s just a time-wasting app. You learn nothing; you don’t improve your hand-eye coordination, anything. Although many may say that almost any game or app is good for something, are you really willing to give up those precious moments and get nothing in return? Make it much harder to use the app – just delete it. If you need it back, you can always download it again, but while it’s not on your phone, it’s just a little harder to use. And that is a good thing.
86. Distract yourself
When you are really finding it hard not to do something terrible for you (or your productivity), then use the tricks parents do to get their kids to stop doing something: distract them with something else. In the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states that habits exist in our dinosaur brain – an ancient area of the brain which is a bit like a permanent memory space – once you have a habit, it’s almost impossible to break – unless you overwrite it with some other habit. So if you are doing something bad for your productivity, distract yourself with something else.
87. Calendar Chain
A trick from Jerry Seinfeld, if there is something you want to do every day – get one of those daily calendars where you can see the days of the month. Put it up on the wall where you can see it every day. Then start doing the thing you want to keep doing – whether it’s going for a walk, quitting snacks, smoking, or writing in your journal. When you do the thing, mark out the day with a giant X with a black Sharpie. Every day you do it, mark the next day and the next. Your goal: don’t break the chain. That Calendar is a visible reminder that you HAVE progressed towards your goal. Focusing on “not breaking the chain” instead of “doing the task” will help you get that task done.
88. Don’t round up – when the meeting is done, it’s done
Who says that meetings have to be some increment of 30 minutes? If you have completed what you need to do, feel free to end the meeting early. In fact, you should always try to end meetings early. If you can estimate better, try to shrink it even further. If you can have the meeting in 15 minutes, or 10, then do so. Sometimes when you are in the middle of a string of back-and-forth emails, a quick 10-minute call can be just the thing you need to get the answers you need. Don’t stick to the clock, end meetings when the productive work is done.
89. Roundup – have other important things to discuss at the same time
If, however, you have most of the people with who you need to discuss something on the phone, don’t be afraid to continue the meeting with those people and let the rest drop off if they don’t need to be there for the discussion. If you’ve done things right, you’ve blocked their time already, and there is no downside to discussing something which does not pertain to the original meeting. I call this the “while I have you” approach.
90. Be ready for latecomers
Not everyone will get to a meeting on time. For those who have, don’t just waste their time chatting about nothing – if someone is on the phone from which you need an answer, then go ahead and ask it before the full team arrives. As long as the issue is not confidential and you can get a quick answer, there is nothing wrong with putting those first few minutes to good use.
91. Prune your contact list yearly
Some people say to do this once a quarter, and if you have the time to do it, great, but I usually don’t. The best time to get in touch with people you haven’t spoken to in a while is to just send them a quick personal email or note once a year, on New Year, wishing them a happy new year. Almost everyone celebrates it, it’s politically correct, and if you are lucky, it can even rekindle a relationship long-dormant, whether it’s business or pleasure.
92. Focus on spending time with those to help you reach your goals and less time on those who don’t
They say that most people descend (or ascend) to the same level as the five people around them. Whether that is true or not, it’s always helpful to look at the people around you to determine if they are helping you get to your goals or hindering you. How much time do you spend talking people out of a tree? How much time do you spend helping others with their goals but getting nothing in return? Take a good, long look at those around you – are they helping you or not? If not, ask yourself if it is worthwhile to keep the relationship the same.
93. Do It Daily
If you really want to build a habit, such as writing, exercising, meditating, or quitting smoking, you must find time to do whatever it is at least once a day. If you want to build a successful productivity habit, then daily is the right cadence for almost anything.
94. Combine Tasks
This is not to be mistaken for multitasking, combining two completely different tasks into one. Many of us do this already – such as by listening to audiobooks. Simultaneously, we drive or watch an educational YouTube video while using our exercise bikes or listen to an audiobook while walking. As long as the tasks combine a physical task that you are unconsciously capable of performing with a mental task, you can easily get the physical and mental benefits simultaneously.
95. Don’t Multitask
Studies have shown that there is truly no such thing as multitasking. While your brain can only work on one thing at a time, we feel that we are actually multitasking even though all we are doing is attempting to switch between tasks rapidly. The reality is that the context switching between the tasks takes a toll on both (or the many) tasks you are trying to perform, and they all will suffer as a result. If you really want to complete tasks to the best of your ability, focus on a single task to completion, then move on to the next. Ignoring that slack message for a few minutes while you finish your task is probably good.
96. Do Less
The Wall Street Journal published an article the other day about high achievers and how they come to be – they simply reduce the amount of work they do on a specific task and reduce the number of different tasks they need to do. Many of us are guilty of having to-do lists a mile long and surface deep – I myself have 50 things due tomorrow and practically nothing due the day after. That’s not going to work. If you want to complete tasks at a high level of competency, you simply need to do fewer tasks. Doing fewer things will allow you to take more time to do those things. Instead of loading up your to-do list with “10 things, you must do by EOD tomorrow,” have one. Or two. Then focus your effort on doing those things the best you can. Think quality over quantity.
97. Use The Disney Method For Content Creation
Many of us need to create content for various things – content marketing, white papers, books, and other materials can be created once and then reused in many forms. Like Disney, with Lion King movies, books, stage plays, and On Ice, they take the same story and repurpose it for a new medium. If the content is good, it can be a blog post, white paper, article, podcast, video, or even expanded into a book. Whenever you create a piece of content, think of all the different ways to repurpose it. Come up with a flow: for example, you can start with something as a blog post, then read it into a podcast, or use it as a basis for a short video, and eventually, it can become a chapter of a book. Whenever you create a piece of content in any form, think about all of the different ways you could use it.
98. Use the 5 Second Rule
If you have decided that you want to do something, no matter what it is, within the first 5 seconds of deciding that you want to do that – physically move. It doesn’t matter which way you move or what direction you go; physically moving your body as you decide will trigger your brain to remind you to do what you have just decided to do. Physical movement, tied to a decision, has been shown in studies to make the decision much more likely to stick.
99. Just Speedup
One day I learned that jets could actually speed up and slow down – they are not always flying at optimal top speed all of the time to get to where they are going, that everything is calculated so that the departure slot time and the arrival slot time are within the range of the planes speed. We are similar – we tend to work faster when we are doing work that we enjoy and slower when we are doing work we dread. Why not just reverse the equation and work faster when you are doing drudgery and work slower when doing things you enjoy. Or just speed up all of your work to get it done faster.
100. Work Yourself Up Ahead of Time By Using Extreme Overestimation
I use this trick when I have to complete a big project: I greatly overestimate the amount of time that I need to do something. For example, a few weekends ago, I dreaded completing this PowerPoint presentation, thinking it would take me three solid days of work. I had blocked off three full days, had already canceled other plans, and was ready to devote a large block of time to this presentation. Once I started, however, I realized that as I was whistling through the presentation and once again had way overestimated the amount of time I needed to complete the presentation, I had lots of time to add additional research, refine and edit the presentation. As a result, I not only got it done in much less time than I thought, I was able to spend more quality time perfecting it.