6 productivity hacks from some of the world's most productive people

Photo: Flickr/ hackNY.org. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

We all have 24 hours in a day.

But the difference between getting to the top of our field and remaining mediocre comes down to how we use those hours.

Not surprisingly, the world’s most successful innovators and business people think very differently about how they use their time.

They have deliberate techniques to get unstuck

Everyone has experienced reaching a stuck point in a project.

For the average person, this often then leads to some form of procrastination, such as checking Facebook to see if your cat video has received another like.

But the most successful innovators have strategies they draw on to get un-stuck.

Nancy Duarte, global expert on presentations and co-founder of Silicon Valley’s largest design firm Duarte, has a go-to strategy for whenever she reaches a stuck point on a project.

“Whenever I got stuck,” explains Duarte, “I would go on a walk and I’d be, maybe, 10 minutes down the trail…and I would see it. I would solve it. I would actually run the entire way back to my office, so excited because then I could sit and just keep going again.”

They are constantly reflecting and re-evaluating the way they use their time

Many of us can feel like we are at the mercy of time. But to milk your workdays for every last drop, we need to constantly reflect on how we use our time and set goals for getting the most out of it.

Wharton Professor and best-selling author Adam Grant has a weekly ritual to get the most out of his time, and ensure he stays focused on what matters most.

“I like to start a week by asking myself what are three things I want to accomplish, and who are three people that I want to help, or three ways I want to be helpful,” describes Grant.

“Then, I do an informal check-in on a daily basis to ask, ‘Am I making progress toward those goals?’ I think it keeps me from getting stuck in the weeds of the one goal that’s happening to loom large at the moment, and it forces me to make sure that I’ve got my priorities in order.”

They read voraciously

According to Pew Research, the typical American has read only four books in the last 12 months. Yet the average CEO reads around 50 books per year – one per week. They realise that reading is a skill that needs to be prioritised.

Matt Mullenweg, co-Founder of WordPress and Automattic, consistently reads between 40-50 books per year. To help achieve his reading goals, he has discovered a hack to make this more achievable.

“I started experimenting a bit with Audible’s sync feature with the Kindle, so I can be reading and then switch to audio and it’s exactly where I left off,” says Mullenweg. “Then when I switch back to reading it’s exactly where the audio stopped.”

This hack has allowed Matt to optimize his reading time even when on the go, such as when he is running from meeting to meeting when travelling.

They have novel ways of managing their inbox

For many of us, email can be the bane of our working lives and certainly one of the biggest drains on our productivity. Where the world’s most successful people differ is they have created tricks to taming their email beast.

To help make the task of email less tedious, Adam Grant came up with a new way to sort his email.

“I actually started going through my inbox and sorting by where I could have the most impact, and so it wasn’t who emailed me first, it wasn’t necessarily who I knew best, it was where could I add the most value. As I answered a few of those emails, I started to get a rhythm and I started to feel like I’m doing something useful here. Then that would give me the energy I needed to finish the task and get my inbox cleaned.”

They have tamed their relationship with their phone

Rachel Botsman, global authority on technology and trust and bestselling author of ‘Who Can You Trust’, realized the negative impact her phone was having on her mornings. She decided to buy a proper alarm clock to remove the temptation of having her phone be the first thing she reached for every morning.

“I can’t believe my phone was my alarm,” recalls Botsman. “It’s such a stupid thing to do, with all due respect. It’s like waking up and having a can of Coke there. There’s no way I could resist the temptation.”

Matt Mullenweg tries to ensure the home screen on his phone only has what he refers to as “good habit apps”. “Instead of Facebook,” explains Mullenweg, “I’ll have Kindle or audio apps, or Runkeeper. My bottom bar is Lift, Google Maps, Todoist and Calendar. So, all things that are very productive.”

They finish their day halfway through a task

It is tempting, and normal, to end our workday when we reach the end of a task. However, this can often make starting the next day more challenging.

“How you start is really key to the rest of the day,” says Botsman. “And a really easy trick I learned is if you’re in flow the day before, don’t finish the paragraph. So get halfway through the paragraph, and then stop writing. It’s then really easy to pick up the next morning. Days where you’ve completed something, and you’re starting again, they’re harder because you’re kind of starting the engine from scratch.”

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading innovation consultancy and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators.

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