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I’ve Read over 100 Productivity Books and Summarized the 15 Most Important Tips

I’ve Read over 100 Productivity Books and Summarized the 15 Most Important Tips

Ten years ago, nearly to the day, I was given a promotion from starting-level engineer to upper management. Honestly, as exciting as the promotion was, I was incredibly overwhelmed. I felt that I didn’t have enough time to do everything that I needed/wanted to do and I began to feel that I was in over my head. Something had to give.

I’d heard of productivity books being helpful, so I decided to give it a try. I was hoping that the books would teach me how to get more done in less time. Not only did they help me achieve that goal, but other aspects of my performance as well.

After reading 100 productivity books, I have found that there are 15 key elements to staying productive and being efficient. I have compiled a list of my findings to help you to be as productive as you can be.

1. Don’t wait for others to set your deadlines, set them for yourself

While growing up with our structured school system, students are used to being given deadlines and working to meet them. This causes a problem when we suddenly don’t have a deadline to work towards. We tend to get lazy because there is no sense of urgency. This is why overachievers in school tend to be average in the real world, as they don’t have deadlines to work towards once no one sets it for them.

Successful people don’t wait, they set deadlines for their personal goals. While meeting external deadlines (those that are given to you) helps you to survive and meet the bare minimum, internal deadlines (those that you give yourself) make you push through your boundaries. The key is to be proactive, not passive.

2. Keep track of your time like you do your bank account

We like to think that we know ourselves well. But when asked to recall, we can’t remember what we did at this time on this day last week. Time is the most valuable resource we have. We need to track it like we do our bank accounts, because as the old saying goes, time is money. You can always earn more money, but you can never get back wasted time.

Keep a time-sheet to record how much time you spend on tasks. Even everyday/personal tasks. You’ll be surprised to see how much time you waste on certain things.

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3. Don’t focus on your weaknesses, work on your strengths instead

It’s common practice to improve your weaknesses. But that shouldn’t be your primary focus.  The most important thing is to first improve your strengths.  Having a strength means that you already have a foundation for it (otherwise it wouldn’t be a strength) and acquired the basic skills.  You should already have a solid idea of what to improve.  The difference is that this growth will be exponential versus improving anything else.

Weaknesses cause limitations because you’re starting from the ground up. Everything is so new and it can be difficult to identify what works.  But once you find those weak points, you can utilize your strengths (which you’ve improved) to help turn these weaknesses into an asset.

4. Rank tasks by importance, not the order you received them

Every task does not hold the same weight of importance as others might. Always ask yourself: What needs to be done right away? Regularly rank your tasks, and get the vital ones out of the way.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that because a task came earlier, it is more important than the following tasks. Some tasks have a leveraging effect, so even if they arise later than other tasks, it should be prioritized to be finished right away.

Example: You are planning to brush up on your presentation skills, so you read 20 self-improvement books to reach your goal. Then you decide to read books on speed reading. The best move would have been to read the speed reading books first, to make reading your self-improvement books quicker and more effective.

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    5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

    “You can’t eat the whole pizza at once.” Now while this statement may come off as a challenge (I’m sure some of you could scarf down a whole pizza with no issue) the point is that we think we can handle enormous tasks on our own. Taking on too much at once can be discouraging, and will ultimately lessen your motivation.

    The solution: break down big tasks into smaller, digestible tasks to create order and relieve some of the stress.

    6. Smart people know when to delegate

    Don’t feel obligated to do every little thing yourself. Doing more doesn’t mean doing better. In fact, if you have too much on your plate you are very likely to make careless mistakes because you’re trying to do too much at once. Recognize which tasks can be passed on to others so that you can focus on more challenging and important tasks.

    7. Use your brain for thinking, not remembering

    Information is unlimited, it’s impossible to remember everything. There’s a popular saying, “You have already forgotten more than you already know.” Meaning, there is just too much information to retain it all through memory alone. There’s a variety of tools that we can use to organize our thoughts and ideas for us, such as: computers, notebooks, our phones, etc.

    8. Review your productivity at the end of the day

    At the end of your day, take the time to reflect what you have accomplished, and what could be improved.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • What have I done well?
    • What have I done poorly?
    • Why did some things not work out as planned?
    • How can I do better tomorrow?

    When we don’t reflect, we rely only on natural growth. Successful people concentrate on deliberate practice, where they actively identify and focus on things to improve. Even if you feel that you’ve done a job well done, still consider what could be done in terms of improvement. There is always something!

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    9. Sometimes cutting tasks is better than adding them

    Make it a practice to regularly clear out what isn’t useful to you. This can be manual tasks, physical items, or even relationships. Think about it, physical clutter doesn’t only take up space, but it inhibits our performance as well because we have the physical impression of overload. I know that I personally need to have an organized work space, or I just can’t concentrate.

    Just like we need to de-clutter our surroundings, we need to do the same with our digital space, only making room for what it important and deleting the rest. Your device will work more efficiently, and you don’t have to sift through endless folders and files to find whatever you’re trying to access. Less is more.

    10. Estimate time for your task

    Sometimes this is something that we slack off on, going into a project without considering how much time it is going to take us. To help with this, follow the 2 minute rule. If it can be completed within two minutes, get it out of the way first.

    Neglecting to estimate your time can cause you to waste time; because you do not have a real goal in mind or deadline you are trying to meet. If you don’t set a standard, then you won’t know which aspects need to be improved upon and tweaked for efficiency when the task is repeated.

    Example: You are making an avocado salad. Before beginning, how long do you think it is going to take? 30 minutes? 15? 3? When we consider the task at hand and the time needed to complete it, we start planning on how to do it more efficiently.

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      11. Stretch your creativity no matter what your job is

      We need a bit of creativity for every task that we complete, no matter how mundane it may seem. Creativity is not always a naturally given talent, but a muscle that can be trained. Perhaps you’re not the Renaissance man (or woman) of the century, but you can drum up some out-of-the-box ideas along with the best of them. We need a bit of creativity in order to step up our efficiency.

      This could relate to tasks such as time management or production procedures. You need to exercise your creativity to make an already existing practice even better.

      12. Know when to stop as tasks tend to devalue overtime

      When the productivity of a project beings to diminish, you need to know when it’s time to call it quits. Tasks tend to devalue overtime. The longer a task is taking, the less likely it is to be successful. When it starts to seem that progress is declining, it’s time to cut your losses and reevaluate your game plan.

      Example: When a business realizes that they are losing more and more money each month, they need to change their strategy.

      13. Always assume that you don’t know as much as you may think you know

      Because the truth is, most people don’t know much. There’s an endless supply of information relating to just about anything. Never be overly satisfied, always know that there is room for improvement. Just because you have a good thing, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be better. Always continue to strive for more and look for new insights. You’re really only the best if you look for new ways to grow. And most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be secretly arrogant. Or outwardly arrogant. Stay humble. You will gain much more respect from your peers and your followers this way.

      14. Identify your instant gratification and ditch it

      You might think that you don’t have an instant gratification trigger, but everyone has one. This is something that you don’t really need to work for, but fills you with enough confidence and feeling of productivity that you don’t feel you need to do anymore. What is yours? Identify yours, and overcome it.

      Example: Your boss is always very complimentary, nearly to the point of being coddled. Since you’re always hearing that you’re doing a good job, you feel like you don’t need to do more. But in order to improve, you should strive to do more to get to the next level of excellence.

      15. Start with the big picture, work down to the details

      Identify the ultimate goal at hand, and start from the beginning. Then, break down every task in sequential order that needs to be achieved in order to reach this ultimate goal. Double check your tasks at hand, ask yourself how it fits into the big picture and if it is really necessary. Could you time be better spent on a different task? Don’t just work mindlessly. Always consider the big picture and the moves you are making towards it.

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

      How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

      A lack of productivity leads to a lack of happiness.

      When you can’t see yourself making progress or getting things done, you get anxious and become stressful.

      There are also tons of things that contribute to unhappiness here too: Facebook notifications, emails, texts, and chatty co-workers are just a small fraction of the disruptions we’re bombarded with. These “little things” can stack up fast and lead to hampering your happiness and productivity levels.

      Learn how to be productive with the 11 tips below and reclaim your everyday productivity and your happiness, once and for all.

      1. Be happy now

      Life is too short. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, be happy now. Start by finding something to be grateful for; everyone has at least one thing to be grateful for.

      Most of the world still has trouble getting access to clean drinking water… yhat means you can even be grateful for that bottle of Aquafina you’ve got on your desk right now.

      2. Finish your day before it starts

      Proper planning is the secret to peak productivity, and it’s also a good idea to set daily goals. Get yourself a planning tool and prioritize your daily tasks with it.

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      Here’s a smart technique on planning and prioritization: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

      3. Celebrate the small wins

      Every time you check off a task from your to-do list, you release a “happy chemical” in your brain called dopamine. This gives you the motivation to move forward and do even more.

      For example, after I finish writing this article and I’ve crossed it off my list of things to do today, I’ll get a nice burst of “happy chemicals” releasing in my brain. The best part? Zero side effects!

      Learn from here: How To Celebrate Small Wins To Achieve Big Goals

      4. Leverage like there’s no tomorrow

      Look for ways to use the good old 80/20 rule by identifying tasks that you might be able to outsource or leverage out to a virtual assistant.

      Stop wasting time doing things that don’t challenge you or ignite your passion. Hire out or automate anything and everything within your means.

      Check out this guide to find out how to start to delegate: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

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      5. Recharge your batteries

      Figure out how many hours of sleep your body needs and make sure you get it. Take time to stretch, walk, or relax—you’ll be glad you did.

      Here’re some simple ways to relax completely and get rid of stress.

      6. Become an early riser

      This is one of the most underused productivity “hacks” on the planet. Ever since I decided to start waking up at 5am every day, my productivity levels and happiness have gone up dramatically.

      Most people aren’t up that early, so no one can bother you or disrupt you from what you want to do. Use this time to exercise, meditate, or to get a head start on your day.

      Not sure how to wake up earlier? Here are 11 Ways To Become an Early Riser Like Most Successful People Do.

      7. Do work you’re passionate about

      Make it your goal to blur the line between work and play by doing more things you’re passionate about. This promotes happiness both inside and outside of the workplace.

      Find what you’re passionate about and do it, or learn how to enjoy what you do with these tips: How to Enjoy What You Are Doing No Matter What

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      8. Use time blocks

      For example, when I wrote this article, I gave myself a one hour time block. This prevents unnecessary dilly-dallying like updating your Facebook status and checking email.

      Use an app like Alarmed to keep you on track.  Here’s a snapshot of the app from my iPhone.

        9. Avoid interruptions

        Interruptions are among the biggest barriers to both productivity and happiness. Every time you’re interrupted in the middle of a task your level of productivity takes a hit.

        We’ve all been there: you’re fully immersed in an important project until all of a sudden the workplace chatterbox appears out of nowhere and starts talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. By the time she’s gone, you’ve already forgotten where you were and it takes 30 minutes to get back on track.

        Avoid this by letting people know that you’ve got important work that’s got to be done.

        Learn more about how to stay focus in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

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        10. Shut down the digital disruptions

        iPhones, mailbox notifications, twitter, facebook, and everything that pops, slides, or fades in and out of your screen has got to go. Shut them down and focus.

        It’s as easy as turning off the notifications or scheduling only a specific time to check all these notifications and texts.

        11. Measure your success

        Every now and then, it’s a good idea to measure your results and see how things are coming along.

        How’s your progress? Are you pacing in the right direction? Are things getting better? Worse? It’s always a good idea to track your progress regularly.

        With an app like Rescue Time, you can easily keep track of the time you spend throughout the day. It helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task and so you can review your progress.

          With these 11 effective ways to improve productivity, you will get more things done timely and become happier.

          Start small and take up each suggestion one by one, you can boost your productivity and create your happiness too.

          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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