- We asked experts for their best productivity advice, in the interest of helping you make 2019 your most productive year yet.
- The advice covered email, to-do lists, creativity, and more.
- Tips include: associate something you love with something you want to accomplish and “timebox” your email routine.
If you pay close attention to Business Insider’s Strategy and Careers sections, you’ll notice we frequently share productivity tips from an expert we’ve just interviewed, a book we’ve recently read, or new research we’ve just scoured.
And we admit it can be a little daunting to keep up with all the productivity advice out there.
So since you’re here to learn how to make better use of your time, we thought we’d save you some and round up the best productivity tricks.
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To do this, we asked some of the experts we trust to share how they get it all done.
Here’s their favourite advice on being more productive:
Immediately do any task that would only take one minute to complete
“Follow the ‘one-minute rule’ and do any task that can be finished in one minute. Hang up your coat, read a letter and toss it, fill in a form, answer an email, note down a citation, pick up your phone message, file a paper … and so on.
“Because the tasks are so quick, it isn’t too hard to follow the rule – but it has big results. Accomplishing all those small, nagging tasks makes us feel both calmer and more energetic because we’re not dragged down by the accumulated weight of a mass of tiny, insignificant tasks.”
Keep your phone out of sight while you’re working
“I leave my phone in another room until lunch each day. It doesn’t work for every job, but if you can manage it, then it can really make a difference.
“When my phone is next to me, I’m like everyone else: I check it every three minutes. But when I leave it in another room, I’m less likely to get distracted and I get a block of three to four hours in the morning where I can work on my own agenda rather than responding to the interruptions that come via text, email, and phone.”
– James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits“
Associate something you love with something you want to accomplish
“Pick a ritual that you love – for me this ritual is the morning coffee – and connect it to a productivity-related activity. In my case, it has to do with writing.
“So I connect something I love, which is the coffee ritual, to something else that I love in principle, but not every moment of it, which is writing. It’s an almost conditioned response, where I start working and I’m enjoying the coffee and the writing at the same time.”
– Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University and author of “Payoff“
Protect your thinking time
“I like to schedule my time for deep thinking on hard and important problems on my calendar like a meeting or appointment. I then protect that time like a meeting or appointment: If someone tries to schedule something in it, I tell them I’m busy.
“This simple technique allows me to tune the amount of time I spend in a state of deep work with great accuracy, increasing during some periods and decreasing during others, and provides a clear record of the role these types of efforts are playing in my schedule.”
– Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of “Deep Work“
Categorise your to-do list
“Every Friday, I spend some time thinking through the week ahead. I make myself a short priority list with three categories: career, relationships, self. Making a three-category list reminds me that there should be something in all three categories. It’s a quick trick to guarantee me a more balanced life.
“After I’ve made my list, I look at my calendar for the next week and figure out roughly where things should go. I don’t always get to everything, but my goal is to end the week with everything crossed off. That’s why I make my priority list on paper. Crossing things off is enormously satisfying.”
– Laura Vanderkam, author of “Off the Clock“
Be more compassionate
“My top productivity tip? Compassion. Wait, what? Aren’t productivity tips typically about shifting mindset, single tasking, deep focus, working in pulses, and a host of other useful tools? Yes. And all those tools can help us be fantastically productive, effective, and even more creative.
“But what compassion recognises is that we’re human. We’re going to have stupid days, when nothing seems to go right. We just will. There will be times when we’re going to be distracted, unmotivated, scattered, when some crisis at work or in life kept us up all night, or when we’re feeling just plain overwhelmed.
“But rather than beat ourselves up, sink into paralyzing negativity, or ruminate endlessly on what went wrong or how we failed, compassion enables us to forgive ourselves, to learn what we can, to see that it’s all about practicing, to let go of perfection, and – lightly and with grace – move forward and try again.”
– Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” and director of the Good Life Initiative/Better Life Lab at New America
Anticipate problems that might make a project more difficult
“The most productive people are great problem-solvers. They come up with innovative solutions and accomplish work more efficiently,” Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman write in the Harvard Business Review.
“They also tend to anticipate roadblocks and begin working on solutions in advance, and so avoid some of the problems that other people run into.”
Folkman told Business Insider it’s about the “ability to step back and say, ‘OK, this sounds like a great plan. What’s going to get in our way? What’s going to happen that’s going to upset this plan?”
Match your tasks to your energy level
“It’s not what you do, so much as when you do it.
“Our cognitive functioning fluctuates throughout the day. Most of us are significantly worse at absorbing new information, planning ahead, and resisting distractions as the day progresses. That’s why the better you are at matching tasks to energy level, the more you can get done with less effort.”
– Ron Friedman, psychologist and host of the Peak Work Performance Summit
Start the new year with an empty inbox — and a hope of keeping it that way
“This is the time of year when I like to review my email setup and reorganise my mail folders and mail rules so that they help me triage my email more effectively.
“Look at the 50 or 100 most recent messages in your inbox and set up mail rules that keep any nonessential email – like newsletters or CCs – out of your inbox, and send those messages to dedicated folders instead.
“Spend a few hours cleaning up your email setup, and then drag all your leftover 2016 mail to a big ‘2016 archive’ folder. You’ll start the new year with a clean inbox, and your new mail rules will help keep it that way.”
Make accomplishing your task a necessity
“A key to maximizing productivity is to forget about what you already know – or think you know – about motivation. We typically assume that there’s a direct correlation between how much we want to achieve a given outcome and how likely we are to actually achieve it.
“However, there’s a much more constructive way to think about motivation – that’s to think of it as something you must custom manufacture for each and every goal you wish to achieve. By custom manufacture, I mean to deliberately and creatively put yourself in situations that make you urgently feel like it’s necessary.
“Here’s my favourite example: After failing time and time again to stick with his good intention to exercise daily, Joe custom manufactured a situation that changed everything. He simply agreed to, from now on, own only one stick of underarm deodorant and keep that one stick of deodorant in his locker at the gym. So the only way he could spare himself from the mortifying embarrassment of stinking all day was to go to the gym. Once he was there, he would feel too foolish about just using his deodorant and leaving, so he would stay and exercise. Joe essentially tricked himself into doing what he intended to do, and eventually exercising daily became a self-sustaining habit.”
– Steve Levinson, clinical psychologist and author of “The Power to Get Things Done“
Timebox your email routine
“There are two types of emailers: ‘reactors,’ who rely on notifications and near-constant monitoring of their inboxes to nibble away at their email throughout the day, and ‘batchers,’ who set aside a few time slots each day to power through their inbox so they can ignore it the rest of the day.
“Recent research shows that the more frequently we check our email, the more stressed we feel. So it’s not surprising then that batchers tend to be more productive, happier, and less stressed out.
“To get yourself into the groove of batching, I recommend setting aside two to three blocks of 30 to 60 minutes per day for checking email. This list of free apps can also help you resist email’s temptations and streamline your inbox.”
– Jocelyn Glei, author of “Unsubscribe“
Create a 15-minute list
“Fight the pull of procrastination and get work done in the microsegments of your day by creating and using a 15-minute list.
“This is a list of tasks that can be done in 15 minutes or less. Keep it with you so you can convert those odd moments of time, like waiting in line or waiting at the dentist’s office, into productive microsegments of work.
“This list is also your go-to when you feel the tug of procrastination. You can quickly complete a task, which gives you a little energy boost, helping you transition into working on a more challenging or complex project.”
– Carson Tate, author of “Work Simply“
Set three goals at the beginning of each day
“Hands down, the ‘rule of three’ is my favourite productivity ritual. At the start of each day, I think: When this day is done, what three things will I want to have accomplished?
“In just a few minutes, you separate what’s important from what isn’t, actually get to consider your longer-term goals on a daily basis – and New Year’s resolutions, if you make them – and consider how constrained your time, attention, and energy will be that day.
“If you’re looking to level up to become even more productive, I recommend setting three intentions every week and month as well.”
– Chris Bailey, author of “A Year of Productivity“