Having worked my way up through the ranks and held senior executive posts at some of Silicon Valley’s finest high-tech corporations over the past 25 years I can safely assure you that the productivity tips I am about to share will change your working life, because these productivity tips & hacks actually work.
These productivity tips have been hard-earned in the trenches as an individual contributor, team leader, manager, director, and corporate strategist, and will serve you very well.
Why are they myth-busting productivity tips? Because most of the productivity tips on the web are simply creations from people who have not actually been there and done it.
The Key To Personal Productivity
The key to being productive at work is to focus on the few business-critical goals and deliver on them as they will propel your career and earnings. You need to eliminate distractions, tune-up your planning and preparation, optimize your use of technology, and harness the power of your team. It’s quite simple really.
These tips are effective and will start to propel your career or business. So let’s start with the ten most critical first.
Top 10 Best Productivity Tips & Hacks
- Focus On Business Critical Goals
- Stop External Distractions
- Stop Internal Distractions
- Meditate (Use Extreme Focus)
- Be Disciplined, Reap Rewards
- Slow Switch Multitasking
- Ignore the Pomodoro Technique
- Harness Group Think
- Ignore 99% of Your Email
- Turn Off Infinity Pools
Focus On Business Critical Goals
The leader of the company knows what they need; they need sales growth, improvements in customer service, more rapid product development, or even cost reductions. The chances are that in your early career, you may only be a small cog in a larger machine. But fear not, you can still impact the business. Be clear on the goals for your team and ensure that you deliver on these goals.
It can be so easy to get bogged down in the day to day mundane tasks that you are unable to see the big picture.
How to Implement It
- Pay close attention and clarify the major goals and targets your manager gives you at your goal setting review.
- Ignore or at least question sub-tasks that are not related to the major goals.
- Focus as a priority on the major goals; you will usually only get three or four major goals for an entire year.
- Deliver on your major goals.
Be clear on your goals, you will never be able to hit a target you cannot see
Why does it work?
Focusing on your major goals allows you to simplify and filter the day to day routine tasks that are not critical to the business or to your team. This will instantly reduce your workload and get you recognized as someone that hits their targets. When you hit your targets, you get an upward career trajectory.
Stop External Distractions
Every social media company, every app development company, and every website is in competition for your eyeballs and your attention. Your eyeballs mean advertising revenue, your attention means website traffic and sales.
Distraction is the enemy of productivity
How to eliminate external distractions:
- Uninstall Facebook from your smartphone
- Remove Twitter from your phone.
- Turn of all notifications on your phone except phone calls, including all games
- Disable outlook’s email notification sound
- Move to a meeting room or work from home if you have a critical task that needs zero human distraction.
Researchers at the University of California found that the average office worker takes 23 minutes to return to the original task after being interrupted. Simply put, five interruptions per day could mean nearly 2.5 hours of overtime in your day.
Think of your life; think of what you could do with 12 hours extra in your workweek. Perhaps leave work on time?
If you want to maximize your free time and be successful at work, you need to eliminate distractions.
Stop Internal Distractions
Here is the toughest challenge.
Eliminating internal distractions is especially difficult because, according to Professor Steve Peters, there is a Chimp chattering away in your head, giving you background stress and alerting you to any subconsciously perceived threats.
I have read this book three times, and it is an amazing insight into how we work.
It is real, and you can deal with it by talking to the chimp.
The Chimp Paradox changed my life.
Meditate (Use Extreme Focus)
Your ability to achieve success in anything you do depends on your ability to meditate on the subject. I am not talking about sitting cross-legged on the floor and humming to yourself. I am referring to extreme concentration.
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. – Wikipedia
You have removed all external distractions, and you are coping with the chimp brain. The nirvana of productivity is to enter the dream-like state of concentration, focus, and output.
It is at this moment in time where your output and thought processes are crystal clear, and the creativity is flowing from somewhere so deep; you barely recognize your own incredible work a few weeks later.
Be Disciplined, Reap Rewards
By being disciplined in your workday, you have the opportunity to spend more time in the evening procrastinating and enjoying the simple life. If you do not have the discipline to focus on the critical business goals and tune out the distractions, you will end up spending more time at work. Sure 25% of that time was on social media, but psychologically you will return home late and drained from the day.
Imagine returning home at a reasonable time, spending a little more time with the family, and then playing around and really engaging with friends with an actual phone, Skype, Facetime, or WhatsApp video call. It is so much more rewarding than getting a “like” on Facebook.
Slow Switch Multitasking
Many bloggers and writers out there would have you believe that you should not multitask. The idea that stopping multitasking will make you more productive is ridiculous because it does not reflect the realities of a working day.
Many large tasks or projects cannot be simply completed in a single sitting, a single day, or even a single week. As an example, imagine you are tasked with the redesign of your company’s website. You may need to work with marketing, sales, the I.T. department, and freelancers to get the job done properly. This means brainstorming, prioritization, coordination, and eventually testing and implementation. There would be many moving parts here, and the work could take weeks or months.
To achieve this, you will need to multitask as you will also have other responsibilities.
The key here is to slowly rotate through all the tasks you have. Dedicate, for example, the first 3 hours of your day to the main project and then rotate through your other tasks as needed.
You need to avoid quick multitasking, meaning you react to every distraction or small task which takes your mind off the main prize.
Ignore the Pomodoro Technique
Nearly every page about personal productivity on the web touts the Pomodoro technique, so let’s look at both sides of the discussion.
“I’m obsessed with productivity, and my favorite tip is to use the “Pomodoro technique” it’s changed my life. The concept is that you chunk your work into 25-minute blocks. I work very hard for those 25 minutes, and then I grab a coffee or relax for a couple of minutes. What I’ve realized from it I can get a lot more work done in a short amount of time. It helps me track how much work I’ve accomplished and helps me balance work and life a bit. Once I reach the number of Pomodoro’s I wanted to do for the day, I can take some time for myself and not feel guilty about it”. Contributor: Sean Pour. Co-founder – SellMax A Nationwide Car Buying Service
“We are surrounded by distractions all the time, and it’s so easy to lose focus, resulting in poor productivity. But if we train our brains to work with laser focus, we can get tasks done so much faster and of much higher quality. I use the Pomodoro technique; I break my day up into 25-minute focus sessions followed by 5-minute breaks. This helps in eliminating the distractions and maximizing the focus. This also keeps me away from spending too much time on a task in a bid to be a perfectionist”. Contributor: James Sheppard – CEO &Co-founder @ Centriq
“For me, the Pomodoro technique does not work as I have the ability to work for long periods in a deep state of concentration. It allows me to achieve big tasks in a much quicker time period. Artificially breaking up a 3-hour piece of work into six individual sessions with six 5-minute breaks is for me simply introducing distractions. When I am in the zone, I like to remain there. When my body gives me a sign that it needs some movement, then I take a break.” Contributor: Barry Moore – Founder & Investor @ Liberated Stock Trader
So, my tip is to try the Pomodoro if it works for you then great, if not, ignore it.
Harness Group Think
One of my secret powers in business is utilizing the power of groupthink. No matter how smart you may think you are, if you have a major challenge, it is always better handled with more people helping you think it through.
Take this article, for example, I have my favorite productivity techniques, but using group think and sharing the question or personal productivity with hundreds of CEO’s, V.P.’s, Founders and Entrepreneurs, I have a much broader collection of excellent tips from experienced people. Also, I have learned some great productivity hacks I can use.
- Related Article: Top 20 Best Time Management Tips To Transform Your Day
Ignore 99% of Your Email
During my corporate career, at one point, I was responsible for hundreds of employees directly and the work of thousands indirectly. The wave of email to my inbox was catastrophic to the point it would have been a full-time job just reading email, never mind delivering on projects valued at over 100 million dollars. The pressure was so high something had to break, and it would not be me. So this is what I did.
- I informed my direct team that if they had something important they needed me to action, they need to raise it in our one on one meeting or message me on Skype as their emails would not be read.
- I set a rule up to flag and color the “Subject Text” in Microsoft Outlook red if it was from certain people. This was literally ten people, my boss, my bosses boss, and eight key leaders I worked with.
- Everything else I ignored.
My email took 10 minutes per day. I operated like this for two years, with no adverse effects. The key here was that the time freed up from email allowed me to deliver on the big business-critical goals and maintain a great personal relationship with my team and peers.
Certain people who were not flagged with the color red would occasionally call me and say, “Hey, did you not see the three emails I sent you on this topic.” I would say, “Sorry, no, because I get thousands of emails per day, but how can I help”.
Turn Off Infinity Pools
In the excellent book Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky (2018), the phrase Infinity Pools is used to describe the web services designed to suck us into an infinite spiral of consumption. Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok are all examples of online services designed to pull you in and keep you there like you are stuck in a spider’s web.
While they are entertaining in the evening or at weekends, you absolutely have to completely remove infinity pools from your working day.
- Delete these apps from your phone.
- Keep your phone in your bag.
- Do not go to these websites on your computer; people will think you are lazy, and even worse, in big corporations, your employer will be logging your internet activity.
However, for many people, it is not this simple; they seek the endorphin rush of social media throughout the day. For those of you who struggle with this, I highly recommend this great book.
Technology Productivity Hacks
Kill Email With Inbox Zero
“I recently read a Forbes article that cited that the average (office working) person spends 2.5 hours a day reading roughly 200 emails a day, of which 70% are totally irrelevant to them or their roles. One of the biggest productivity hacks for me has been automating my email workflow to ensure I read and address only what I must on a given day. My goal is to keep my inbox at zero by the end of each workday. This has improved my health (I had to get a stress coach years ago) and my ability to get things done.
Here are a few of my go-to tricks. First things first, do some manual work on the frontend to get our inbox into a respectable state:
- Apply new rules and filters in Gmail or Outlook
- Archive all emails that are more than seven days old
- Delete or Archive each email that has the term “unsubscribe” in it (which is typically a marketing email)”
Add these tools to level up your email organization and get your sanity back:
- Slack – For internal communication with your team
- Intercom – for external communication with partners/vendors
- Followupthen – for free follow-up reminders, automated follow-ups when people don’t reply and SMS reminders to yourself on important details (conference call login details, etc.)”
Contributor: Wesley Cherisien is an Orlando-based Investor and Entrepreneur; learn more about his latest projects at wesleycherisien.com
Switch Off Email Notifications
I know it is super simple, but you need to do it. One of the biggest distractions in business in the reminder sound in Microsoft Outlook, which is kindly switched on by default by Microsoft. That single sound will cause you subconsciously to break from the current task you are working on and check your mail.
How to disable all Outlook email notifications.
- Open Outlook
- Click File -> Options
- Click Mail -> Scroll to Message Arrival
- Deselect the following – Play a sound, Briefly change the mouse pointer, Show an Envepole in the taskbar & Display a Desktop Alert
- Click OK
Swap Email for Conversations
If you have a team who are constantly sending emails to ask you questions or even cc’ing you on email conversations that they think you may be interested in, this can be a huge time suck.
Simply ask your team to speak with you regarding anything important that you need to act upon, whether it is approving an expense report or getting involved in a specific email conversation. You will save a lot of time by not having to read and decipher every single email yourself.
Use Excel for Tasks & Goals
You do not really need complex software for managing goals, targets, and business priorities. I actually ran a $100,000 program of business improvement across 57 people using Microsoft Excel. Excel is endlessly flexible, most people already know how to use it, and the reporting, sorting, and pivot table options are a breeze.
You can save yourself a lot of time by using excel to keep track of your team goals, one on one conversations, and the return on investment (ROI) reporting for your business unit.
In fact, from my lengthy experience of big corporations, they may collect and store sales and financial information in SAP, Peoplesoft, or Salesforce, but all the real data manipulation is done in Excel, why because it is easy and flexible.
I write a lot, and I bet you do too. Grammarly is simply the best service for anyone who writes. Whether it is an email to your team, a PowerPoint presentation to management, or writing a book, Grammarly is far superior to Microsofts spell checking, and it even works online through a browser extension for Chrome. Try Grammarly for free; you will not regret it.
Use a Password Manager
The wealth of online services we use actively today is mind-blowing. But the major problem is remembering all the passwords. It is nearly impossible to remember all your passwords because security experts recommend:
- An individual password per website, so if one site is compromised, all your passwords are not compromised.
- A complex password with numbers, symbols, upper and lower case characters, to make it near uncrackable with brute force
This means your passwords are almost impossible to remember. An when you forget a password, you have to go through the annoying process of requesting a reset, confirming your reset request, then resetting your password, and then logging in again.
All of these problems are fixed with Lastpass, I have been using it for five years, and I must say it is fantastic. It literally saves me at least 20 minutes per day.
Imagine doubling or even tripling the amount of screen real-estate you have to work with. The improvement in your productivity when using a computer is amazing. I run a triple monitor setup, which means when working with multiple excel sheets, browsers, writing I have enough space to do everything
Nearly all computers and laptops now natively support dual screens. You can simply plug new monitors into your graphics card slot on the back of your P.C. If you have a modern super-slim laptop with only a single USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, or HDMI out, you might need a few extra accessories.
The Best Accessories for Multiple Monitor Setup:
- The Best Laptop Docking Stations on Amazon
- The Highest-rated Monitor Stands on Amazon
- The Amazon Best Selling Monitors List
Use Sharepoint or Slack
“Nowadays, productivity is all about using the right tools. For me, Slack is much more than just a tool for communication. There are tons of Slack features that increase productivity and the quality of communication. One that I would like to highlight is a Slackbot reminder. I set a Slackbot reminder to create a to-do list. To keep track of what I need to get done, I use the /reminder commands. It’s easy as ABC, all I have to do is to enter /remind into the text box, followed by the task. The great thing about this Slack feature is that it’s only me who’s able to see the command along with the reminder.
And in case I want to review my list of reminders, I simply use the command /remind list. From there, I can mark certain tasks as complete or delete the ones I no longer need.” Contributor: Oksana Chyketa, the Chief Marketer at Albacross.com
Don’t Listen to Music.
Many people dishing out advice on productivity and concentration suggest that listening to music can help concentration. There is actually very little actual science to this claim; the evidence is anecdotal at best. So let’s do a little myth-busting.
Here are the facts:
- Human voices around you are highly distracting.
- Lyrics in music is distracting.
- High tempo music is great for running, dancing, and energizing yourself, but very bad for deep concentration.
- Classical music can be great in the background when reading a book, painting, or other creative activities.
The current trend in advice on this subject is to use white noise or pink noise to drown out background voices other distractions. Try it; I think you will hate it. In fact, an actual study suggests that both white and pink noise are terrible at blocking out background noise.
Noise Cancellation to Help Focus.
If you work in a noisy office or environment and need to concentrate without distraction, use a pair of active noise-canceling headphones. They will literally change your life. You can enjoy long-haul flights, you can work in bustling offices, and the big plus is that people at work are less likely to disturb with questions or conversation when you are wearing them.
I own a pair of Bose QC Active Noise Cancelling Headphones that are so good that you do not even need to play music to block out the sound simply switch them on to listen to pure silence.
Check out the best Active Noise Cancelling Headphone on Amazon.com.
Don’t Use Apps to Gamify your Goals.
There are now apps available that allow you to gamify your goals to allegedly motivate and improve your productivity. Gamification is essentially the art of creating a framework that rewards the user for participation or achievements with trophies, stars, or likes. Gamification is everywhere, the “Likes” on Facebook, or the “Thumbs Up” on Youtube.
I must say that the gamification of exercise built into my Fitbit Ionic smartwatch is OK, but it does not actually motivate me to exercise, my reward for exercise is feeling good.
My advice here is to avoid this distraction at all costs. You will need to keep feeding the App your goals and progress, and for what? More wasted time being distracted with your phone? Some artificial and meaningless trophy?
Productivity, concentration, and achievement of goals are already gamified in getting that promotion, getting that pay rise, and the recognition from your peers that you deserve.
Kill Social Media
One of my favorite productivity hacks, comes with the help of an app called Stay Focused. When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction. StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10-minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day. Contributor: Lori Cheek – A NYC Based Architect & Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Cheekd.com
Learning Productivity Tips
You know how it is as a modern-day knowledge worker, you sit in meetings and in front of a computer for the majority of your working day. You read a lot, emails, PowerPoint presentations, excel spreadsheets. When you finish work and eventually get home, you feel mentally and physically tired.
Have you lost your love of reading books, perhaps you simply do not have time anymore, there is the housework, exercise, perhaps even the children? Who has time to read? But without reading, how do you continue to build your knowledge, learn new skills, or wade into a novel.
Audiobooks available online and on-demand are the single best way to continue learning when you do not have time or the inclination to sit down and read.
I have personally listened to over 350 books over the last eight years averaging one book every nine days. I am actually the most “well-read” person I know.
I listen to books when:
- Doing the laundry
- Cleaning the kitchen
- Going running
Be the most “well-read” person you know and increase your learning productivity by signing up for an Audiobook service. I use Audible and Audiobooks.com
Great Audiobook Services
- Audiobooks.com – Great prices and a highly rated App, plus two free Audiobooks.
- Audible.com, an Amazon Company – The largest collection of Audiobooks and Audible original productions, includes one free book trial.
- SCRIBD – For a flat fee of $9.99 you get access to the entire library of Audiobooks, but consumption is restricted
Use Blinkist for Power Learning
Now, if you want to put your learning on supercharge, you could sign up for a service called Blinkist. I have a yearly membership with Blinkist because it allows me to read or listen to an entire book in summary format in 15 mins. Not only that, but you also have unlimited access to over 3,000 summarized books.
Book summarization services only work well with non-fiction books such as self-improvement, biographies, or concepts. A fiction thriller story cannot be summarized, because the whole point is the story, not the idea.
Try Blinkist for Free, and you get one free Blinkist book delivered to you every day.
Newspaper Audio Version – Economist
If you want to stay up-to-date with high-quality journalism on news, politics, business, and finance, you could do as I do and subscribe to the economist. It is pricey, but you will have access to the print magazine delivered to your door, full online access, and the full Audio version of the magazine available in your App every Friday morning.
Time Productivity Hacks
Inundated with meetings, finding it difficult to get any actual work done? There is a very quick cure for this. Reduce your meeting times down to 15 minutes. This works especially well in remote team meetings or conference calls as the is no traveling between meeting rooms.
Try it out on meetings that have a single topic, or a few participants; it works wonders because it forces people to get directly to the point. Also, ensure you are very clear about the specific goal or deliverable of the meeting in the invite. For example, use “Meeting to decide on exact dollar investment for new office laptops” do not use “Laptops Meeting”.
Use Coffee Breaks For Quick Meetings
Need a break from the intensity of your day, then go for a coffee with someone you need to meet with, you will cut one meeting out of your schedule and get a coffee break at the same time.
1 on 1 Meetings for Super-performance
If you are effective you become more productive; if you hold effective one on one meetings with your direct staff, you will have fewer meetings overall because they will be able to make better decisions on your behalf, because of that personal time with you.
Whether you are a manager, director, vice president, or CEO of a company, you cannot and should not skip your personal meetings with your direct staff. If you do, you will miss out on a wealth of information and your opportunity to develop motivated employees and the next generation of leaders.
- Related Article: One On One Meetings To Motivate & Empower [Ultimate Guide]
“I was lagging in productivity in professional and personal life for so long. I realized that it is because of my lack of concentration abilities. I searched on the net, and the best solution that kicked me was 5 minutes of simple meditation.
In initial days it was difficult for me to fix a time for it. However, I started practicing it for 5 minutes daily. Instead of going for complex meditations and visualizing light, I preferred to adopt a simple way – to sit in a quiet place and comfortable posture with my back straight. I only observed my thoughts while meditating. To my surprise, my concentration abilities increased by devoting only 5 minutes to my mind. The stamina keeps on increasing day by day. Now, I can meditate for 20 minutes with the same process. ”
Tyler Sellers – Certified Trainer & CEO at Total Shape
Reduce Stress Boost Productivity
This book offers practical insights for the executive, manager, or professional who feels like their RPM is maxed out in the red zone. By making the concepts and practices of mindfulness simple, practical, and applicable, this audiobook offers actionable hope for today’s overworked and overwhelmed professional. New research shows that the smartphone equipped professional is connected to work 72 hours a week. Forty-eight percent of Americans report that their stress level is up and that the number one source of stress is the job pressure of a 24/7 world.
Packed full of simple yet effective stress-relieving strategies that you can start putting into practice today, this is a survival guide tailor-made to today’s fast-paced corporate world.
Take Walking Meetings
The weather is great outside, and you are stuck in back to back meetings the whole day, you want to feel the warm sun on your face and breath some fresh air, but there is no time. Wrong.
Take your meetings outside, walk a few blocks, and discuss the topics of the day. This hack works best for one on one meetings or very small group meetings.
You will return to your desk energized and refreshed; I have been doing this for years.
Work from Home
Most companies allow you to work from home occasionally. Take advantage of this great perk because there are serious advantages to doing so. Not only do you save commute time and the cost of the commute, but there is a key productivity benefit also.
Working from home means fewer distractions; this allows you to deeply concentrate on those big projects and planning activities, or take a step back to think about the big picture goals away from the office.
Say Yes then No
If you have a huge workload and you are being asked to do more and more, it is usually not a good career move to keep saying no and using the reason that you are too overworked.
The best approach is to say yes, it is possible, but which of my current tasks will be deprioritized, or delegated to others to make space for this task.
No matter how productive you are, there will always be more work to fill up the space you have managed to free up in your working day.
So, be mindful of how much work you take on. This seriously affected me to the point I had so many important deliverables that I was working 14 hour days. I adopted the approach of renegotiating my priorities to the point where I only focused on business-critical activities; everything else was delegated.
Start Early or Late
You will always hear people advocating that rising early is very productive; in fact, this compelling book I listened to on Blinkist is fantastic evidence that early rising is beneficial.
Join The 5 am Club – Through the enchanting story of an entrepreneur, an artist, and their eccentric billionaire mentor, The 5 am Club (2018) shows how embracing a revolutionary morning routine can deliver epic results. It explains how you can use the first hour of your day to drive personal growth and get the most out of life.
However, I am by default a night person, so I can get an incredible amount of work done in the evening. You need to do what works for you, but I can tell you one thing. If I go to bed at 10 pm, I am awake by 4 am and ready to work by 4:30 am. If I go to bed at 2 am, I am dead until at least 10 am. I actually need 2 hours less sleep if I go to bed early, this means 2 hours more in my day.
How do I know the details of my sleeping habits, because I have a Fitbit Ionic that gives me valuable insights and measures my sleep quality, sleep zones, and duration?
So despite being a night person, I actually rest a lot better and need less sleep when I go to bed early.
Experiment with your sleep patterns and see what works for you. Try a Fitbit smartwatch; it will help you learn about you.
- Related Article: A Productive Morning Routine – 12 Ways to Start the Day