We love productivity games, don’t we? That’s why you clicked.
Productivity is like common sense which, when proclaimed loudly, gets reinforced. We often need these reinforcements to achieve incredible outcomes in life.
Below is a list of top productivity tips, techniques, tools, and theories that I learned from the expert authors and researchers over the last few years:
1. Create a Success list instead of a To-Do List
‘To-do’s are a great way to accomplish what you want during the day. But ask yourself if you really need to organize your mailbox or arrange your sock drawers.
You may have a sparkly clean tabletop or a beautifully mowed lawn at the end of the day, but does that help you move closer to what you really want to do in life? Probably not.
Instead of using To-Do lists, create a success list — a list that is purposeful, unidirectional, and motivational.
Completing them will give you a much stronger sense of satisfaction.
Recommended article — “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller
2. Stack similar activities to be more efficient
Simple, yet a very useful trick. Combine related tasks during the day.
For instance, I usually complete all my household chores in the morning — it helps me keep a clean schedule and know the time I spend in the kitchen.
It also helps to speed up your routine tasks, making it effortless to complete tasks in a single session.
3. Create an ‘Anti-ToDo’ List
Yes, you read that right. Once you have created a ‘To-Do’ list or let’s say a ‘Success list’, it is time to create an ‘Anti-ToDo’ list.
The author behind this technique says we don’t always achieve what we initially planned for and an incomplete to-do list is a huge demotivator. It leaves us feeling unaccomplished.
But you don’t need to.
You may not have practiced guitar lessons, but you have talked to your grandparents at length — it’s equally important to maintain healthy relationships. Write that down in the Anti-ToDo list. It is a brilliant technique, and I love it.
Because you write it down once you’ve done it, it makes you feel good. Also, you now know why you couldn’t achieve something else on your To-Do list.
Recommended article — Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity by Marc Andreessen
4. Focus on a single task at hand.
Avoid Multitasking; it is a myth — we can only focus on one thing at any point in time, period.
Constantly switching between different tasks reduces efficiency. It takes double the usual time required to complete it. It also causes undue stress.
Instead, focus on a single task, steering you towards what really matters. It will help you increase your output multifold and sharpen your mental focus — a skill that is often undervalued.
Recommended article — ‘Habits you can learn in 10 minutes that will make you productive for the rest of your life’ by Thomas Oppong
5. Find your peak performance
Morning routines are a myth.
Everyone has a different circadian rhythm (a biological process recurring every 24 hours). Similarly, we all also have biological processes recurring within those 24-hour periods — this is called the ultradian rhythm.
These are recurring cycles of peaks when you feel the most energized during the day. It can last anywhere between 90 to 120 minutes. This is your most productive time. This can vary from person to person and may need to be assessed at an individual level.
However, what we do know is that not everyone is an early riser or a night owl. Each individual is different, and so the period of peak performance also varies.
Make the most of this time — seize it, protect it(avoid disruptions), and then plan your work around it.
Recommended article — ‘Don’t Listen to Those Productivity Gurus why waking up at 6 am won’t make you successful.’ by Aytekin Tank
6. Structured Procrastination
I love this one. I am a huge procrastinator. I completed my very first blog in five sittings. And guess what the title of my blog was? You’re right — it was titled ‘The Art of Procrastination.’
After reading a fair bit on this topic, I concluded: ‘Procrastination is the enemy of Productivity’. But is this really true?
When I read this essay titled ‘Structured Procrastination’, I was amazed by how little I knew to date about it.
Procrastinators often put off certain things they have to do, but that doesn’t mean they do absolutely nothing. The idea is to use procrastination to get some of the lesser worthwhile tasks done.
Some days when I can’t get myself to complete my article, I try to clean the kitchen, organize notes, read essays, and do everything I can to avoid writing the blog. I have been fighting this over in my head for years and after reading this I realized that I was wrong. I feel relieved. I just say to myself — it’s alright.
My blogs are essential to me, and I love to write, but I need to allow myself enough space to breathe.
It’s okay to not be at the top of your game. It’s okay not to be the utmost productive always. It’s okay to procrastinate.
Recommended article — Structured Procrastination by John Perry, professor of Philosophy at Stanford
7. Parkinson’s Law
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Isn’t that true?
Have you ever felt that when you have more time on hand, we engage in long and useless discussions, whereas actual decision-making happens in haste when you are struggling to meet the deadlines?
As humans, we get a million ideas and questions every day, and it is only natural that with ample time at hand, we want to find answers to them all. But we forget we don’t need to.
We need to work with the same sense of urgency that we demonstrate prior to an exam, an interview, or a deadline.
When it comes to true productivity, less is more
When we work with this outlook, we are more result-oriented than task-oriented.
Recommended book — The Four-hour work-week by author Timothy Ferriss
8. The One-Year Rule
“In one year, what will I regret not starting today?”
That’s the one question you need to ask yourself, says YouTuber Ali Abdaal.
Be it a healthy physique, learning Guitar, composing poems, writing a blog, any goal that you are after a year from now that you’d start regretting if you didn’t’ start today.
Replace one year with five or ten, and that would still be relevant. It would help in being more driven towards the goal.
Every little step adds up.
What you do today will shape who you are tomorrow.
Recommended video — ‘How to be more productive in Lockdown.’ by YouTuber Ali Abdaal
9. The 8–8–8 Rule
I love this one, and if you know me, you’d know why.
The 8–8–8 rule is simple — you need to balance your three priorities in the day — Work, Leisure, and Sleep.
When you stretch any one of these buckets, it disrupts either of the other two and upsets the balance. Strive to balance the three especially the ‘work’ bucket which often tends to borrow time from the ‘sleep’ and ‘leisure’ buckets.
Plan your leisure time — yes, not planning it is the biggest mistake. Knowing what you want to achieve in your free time will ensure you accomplish it.
Recommended article — The 8–8–8 Rule by myself
10. Rule of three
It is a simple time-management technique.
Write down the three things you want to accomplish today, this week, this month and this year.
It helps in reinforcing your top three priorities. You may ask, why three and not five or seven things? — Accomplishing three tasks gives you a psychological win.
Think of it as three wins, says J.D. Mier, Director of Innovation at Microsoft.
Chunking your goal into three actions each day helps in eating the elephant one bite at a time.
Recommended article — “How To Use The Rule of Three to Master Productivity.” by J..D. Mier
11. Do one small thing every day
It is indeed as simple as it sounds.
You need to do just one little thing, take that one step towards your goal.
You want to start reading books, just start with two pages. You want to get fitter, commit to putting on your gym clothes. The goal seems less daunting and more achievable.
You don’t need to be perfect or even have everything figured out. All you need to do is get started to get the ball rolling.
Recommended book — Atomic Habits by James Clear
Also, check out the blog titled The Most Underrated Productivity Technique Is Also the Simplest by Darius Foroux
12. Track your habits
Tracking gives you a lot of insights with actual data that reduces assumptions, intuitions, and theories.
To track habits, you can simply print a calendar and stick it on a wall in your workspace. You can also use any Habit Tracker app if you love to keep it all digital.
I like the physical calendar because of 2 reasons — a) Visibility — being a big believer in Lean practices, anything that’s visible gets actioned. b) there is immense satisfaction in putting a checkmark every time you complete a task.
Either way, as long as you track, you’d be able to know how you are performing against the goals you set for yourself.
13. Identify the Most-Important-Tasks
80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes — Vilfredo Pareto
I am sure you have heard this one before — it’s one of the most extensively quoted technique, and people keep referring to it time and again. The reason you may ask — it works.
It can be simply applied in any situation. When applied to the tasks you have in hand, 80% of the results are derived from 20% of the actions.
While you may have several goals in mind, consolidate your tasks and focus on only the most important.
Pursue less and achieve more using this principle.
The key, however, is to understand how to prioritize the most important task (MIT). To do this, plot all your tasks in the Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important matrix and then rank them in the below order of priority.
Recommended video — How to Effectively use the 80/20 Pareto Principle to Be More Productive
14. Moderate your use of social media
The best advice in this space is to delete all the social media apps that you often use.
I know this is difficult (not impossible though) but it has immense benefits — you will have all the time back on your hand and enough mental space to focus on something else.
However, if that sounds extreme at this moment, try to reduce the time you spend on consuming this content — most apps track the time spent on the app and also allows you to set a reminder when you deem it’s enough.
The other useful tip is to switch to the less-friendly web version of the app. It would piss you enough to eventually drive you away. Bottom line — create as much friction as possible barring yourself from using it often.
Trust me- you don’t need to know it all
Recommended article — How social media ruins your productivity by James Adonis
15. Stop obsessing over emails
Let’s ignore the subscriptions, broadcast, and newsletters, which you probably don’t look into, but let’s talk about the important ones that require action from your end.
It can become a daunting task if your major work comes in emails (even then, you need a workflow manager and not a mailbox.)
Here’s a few things that can help in not obsessing over emails(only things which are in your control)
- Democratize the process. Use collaboration tools like (Confluence, JIRA, and Sharepoint) and every time someone asks for any information, redirect them to these tools.
- Like social media feed, we love to check emails as soon as they arrive in our inbox, but do we really need to? Don’t check emails the first thing in the morning. Check emails at noon and then at the end of the day.
- Simple as it sounds, and you might be doing this — create rules. Create a lot of rules to organize, archive, and delete emails (especially those FYI emails, notifications, and newsfeed from the organization.) Revisit these rules as you need to update them on a timely basis, but if done right, this is a big timesaver
- Touch them only once or twice — If you can respond to emails in less than 5 minutes, action them straight away. If not, flag them.
- Inbox Zero — It means reaching this email nirvana — keeping your inbox always empty. I am not a big believer in this. I still have over a hundred unread emails and over a dozen flagged emails. It doesn’t bother me. I know I have actioned the most important ones. But, if you think having zero emails in your inbox helps you in decluttering your mind, go for it.
Recommended article — Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity by Marc Andreessen
16. Protect your alone time
We need to find solitude to allow for the creative juices to flow in our brains, says Scott Barry Kaufman, an expert on Creativity and Productivity.
You may have experienced that you get the best ideas in the shower.
Well, there is scientific research to back this — Neuroscientists have found out that our minds wander in search of new ideas when we are in solitary undisturbed by anyone or any distraction.
This is when the mind makes neural connections, digs deeper into our memories, sparks emotions, and activates the “imagination network.”
Recommended article — HBR post titled, ‘Executives, Protect Your Alone Time’ by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire
17. Done is better than perfection
If you often find yourself refining your output and don’t know where to stop, this advice is for you.
This is not a new idea, Shakespeare once quoted, “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”
It gets polished with every generation, but the basic premise remains the same. Often we set unachievably higher standards for ourselves and struggle to meet them.
Instead, focus on a simple outcome and keep iterating to deliver better. Set timelines and stick to them.
18. Do nothing
Yes, you read that right. Doing nothing is the single-most effective technique of being extremely productive.
When you do nothing, you are allowing your mind to be calm and composed. Ideas would come to you. And it certainly doesn’t mean watching Netflix or sleeping off.
It actually means being in a mentally aware state and undertaking no additional tasks.
19. Get in the flow
Have you ever been fully immersed in a Crime show that leaves an impact on your minds long after the show is over? If yes, you have experienced flow.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, it’s:
“… In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”
To get into this state of mind follow a few simple steps — 1) Find something you are genuinely passionate about 2) Get into a quiet room or create the right environment, and 3) Practice and keep practicing.
When I write out of passion, I won’t move, I won’t check my phone, and I won’t entertain anyone else. I write, I read and write some more, edit what I have written and when I am done, I break.
Recommended article — How to Completely Ignore Distractions and Consistently Enter Flow States by Anthony Moore
20. Get yourself a passion project
The reason you want to save all this time is to pursue a passion. Now that you have enough time on hand, all you need is a little motivation to push you in the right direction.
For some, taking that first step is a big motivation for others, knowing what others have accomplished in that field. Whatever be your motivation, you have to believe in yourself.
Believe that consistency and determination can help you achieve your dreams.
Recommended article — Increase productivity through passion and Freedom by Mark Craemer
This is certainly not an exhaustive list. I am sure there are plenty of other techniques too but I felt some of this advice has resurfaced time and again over decades by writers. They have become timeless classics. Hope some of them resonate with you. Tell me what has worked for you or perhaps things that haven't worked for you.