My headline isn’t truthful. There are no secrets.
But there’s something better. Wisdom — those golden nuggets and tried-and-true practices for productivity — comes from the names we know, the authors we’re familiar with, and the historical personalities we admire.
Those who’ve gone before us, who’ve changed the world. Those who have left a path that, quite frankly, gets us there.
When it comes to productivity — the art of getting things done —
action happens when you and I do these 10 well-known things:
1. Get up early.
“Early to bed and early to rise,
makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
— Benjamin Franklin
I know all about staying up late at night to watch one more episode, then hitting snooze in the morning. (Don’t we all do it?)
The truth is simple: Getting up is about simply sitting up, swinging our legs over the side of the bed, and moving. Boatloads of studies show how productivity rises when we rise early.
We say that it’s hard, but it’s really not. Decide, turn on the alarm, and do it.
2. Schedule it.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”
I love this quote. Whether in a private coaching session or speaking at a conference, my number one recommendation for productivity to those who want to write a book is this: Use a calendar, and schedule the time to write. Then keep the schedule.
Want to finish your project? Learn something new? Have a better relationship with someone?
Schedule the time.
You and I control our calendars. Be your number one client. Put it in the calendar, and do it.
3. Break it down into small pieces.
Great acts are made up of small deeds.
— Lao Tzu
Breaking tasks down into manageable pieces, or segmenting, is a productivity “trick” in education. When it comes to work productivity, segmenting works, too.
Too much can be overwhelming. With too much in front of us, we freeze, push away the task, and avoid it.
Break the task down into visual and physical pieces that are small, segmented in like-content, and separate.
Tackle one piece at a time.
4. Work in a rhythm of intensity and rest.
“Step with care and great tact, and remember that
Life’s a Great Balancing Act.”
— Dr. Seuss
Productivity isn’t just about working like a dog.
For all of us, there comes a point when we’re tired and productivity goes down. And in order to actually do more, we need breaks.
In fact, research shows that when we know a break is coming, we push through “that little bit more” and get more accomplished. Research also shows that breaks of fresh air, movement, food, and water get our brains working smarter and harder.
So, hands down, taking a break can be a good idea.
We all know that high productivity has been linked to what’s called flow. From Mozart to Quincy Jones, musicians talk about flow — the state where you’re creating at your peak. How do we find our peak state of flow?
Work hard. Then take a break. Then work hard again. Be aware of the rhythm, find your flow, and use it to your advantage.
5. Prioritize and stay on track.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule,
but to schedule your priorities.”
– Stephen Covey
We know the saying: We all have the same 24 hours.
If we’re not getting it done, the hard truth is that it’s becauase it’s not a priority (whatever it is). Productivity is about decisions and actions. We decide. We act. No one else.
Abraham Lincoln has a tip on prioritizing: “Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.” I like to call this the just one more thing practice. Before I finish, I do just one more thing. Like a bodybuilder getting in one more rep, it’s the push that gets you farther.
Lincoln also said, “It is best not to swap horses when crossing the river.” When in the middle of something, don’t change. Stay with it. (Don’t begin another project and spread yourself thin.)
Staying on track increases productivity.
6. Get inspired.
“Keep your eyes on the stars
and your feet on the ground.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
Inspiration is the avalanche of a fresh idea — buoyed with the feeling that nothing can stop us. It’s the state where amazing ideas pop in our minds and the stars feel close. Inspiration feels like the rope of hope has been flung around the future — bringing it close, where we’re holding every possibilty tight, with a smile on our face.
We are all people of heart. Inspiration and hope is at the heart of what it means to be human. And because of that, with inspiration, we move faster, go farther, and become more productive.
The root of inspiration is imagination — that ability to envision something as real as if you were holding it in the palm of your hand. Pablo Picasso said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”
When we take time to imagine, envision, and be inspired, we work with enthusiasm and a lightness in our entire being. It’s no wonder that when we get inspired, we are more productive.
Do you have regular “inspiration time” in your schedule? This might be a good time to start.
7. Have fun.
“Pleasure in the job
puts perfection in the work.”
Fun is in the heart of the beholder.
(We decide if we’re having fun or not.)
And productivity is whole-lot easier when we’re having fun.
Ghandi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”
Our thoughts drive our feelings. (Check out the idea of self talk.) So we’re in charge of whether or not we’re having fun.
Why not be more productive (and, as Aristotle put it, gain “perfection”) by changing our thoughts, changing our minds, and having fun?
8. Have like-minded partners in crime.
“Friendship is born at that moment
when one person says to another,
‘What! You Too? I thought I was the only one.’”
— C.S. Lewis
Having like-minded partners in crime has two parts…
The first like-minded parners are those working with us — our community and friends who share our dreams and passions. Get with them. Side by side. Work craft together. Call or text each other. Share the challenges and triumphs.
Because working with like-minded people increases productivity.
The second like-minded parners are the masters who have gone before us. If you’re a painter, think of VanGogh, Monet, Ruben, daVinci, Rembrandt, Hopper, Cassat — these are your people. If you’re an architect, then Gaudi, Wright, Pei, and Bohm are your people. Whatever your experise, you have mentors, compatriots, and compeers who are your mates across the time and space of history.
Be familiar with their work. Copy their practices — not exactly, as in plagiarism, but as apprentices learning from mastery.
Matthew Kelly, author of The Rhythm of Life, said, “We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”
And being the best versions of ourselves includes productivity.
9. Know the true problem.
“The problem is not the problem.
The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
— Captain Jack Sparrow (screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio)
Okay, some would argue that Jack Sparrow isn’t a historical figure. (I beg to differ.)
Attitude is everything. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Our thoughts and attitudes influence and drive who we are at the deepest levels. Deciding to do a thing — really making the decision, intellectually and emotionally — influences whether or not it will be accomplished.
Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” If you tend to think something’s impossible, congratulations — you’re human.
But don’t let the impossibility thoughts influence your productivity. Put your nose down, and do.
10. Just do it.
“All growth depends upon activity.
There is no development
physically or intellectually
without effort, and effort means work.”
– Calvin Coolidge
Yep. Nike has it right. Just do it. And science backs up the slogan, because starting has a huge impact on whether or not we finish.
The Zeigarnik Effect is psychological construct that says that it’s human nature to finish what we start. If we don’t finish, we experience dissonance. No one likes dissonance. So we work to get rid of it.
To feel good, we’ll finish the job. We’ll produce more. So for nearly all humans, simply starting something increases productivity.
Whether we chant Nike’s creed or Julias Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered,” the message is the same:
Start. Simply act. Stop saying “can’t” and do.
Erin M. Brown, MA, MFA (author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with an MFA in Creative Writing, Genre Fiction, and over 20 years as a professional creating, coaching, and speaking nationally and internationally. She’s the author of nine books; thousands of articles, marketing content and pages, and web pieces; multiple courses and curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses (including how-to writing courses) created and used across the world. A former university professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communication, she’s currently the lead creative and technical content writer for a worldwide company all about entrepreneurial tools that help small companies thrive. Erin lives in and writes from Michigan, USA.