Productivity Tips From The Pros

Productivity is a hot topic at Fast Company, and one that our contributors and the CEO types we cover spend time thinking about (efficiently, before crossing it off a list, of course). Here are their tips for getting more productive in your own career.

1. Keep Email From Crushing You With "OHIO"

Email inbox driving you crazy? Just remember "OHIO"--only handle it once. "No 'I'll respond later' is allowed. Responding later means you take three times longer to get through your email than taking care of it the first time."--Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro.

2. Chuck Your To-Do Lists

"I'm no longer creating to-do-lists, which seem to go on forever. Anything is worth doing, it goes on my calendar"--Roberta Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting.

3. Restrict Your Social Media Diet

"I set a timer for [social-media] activities to ensure I am on track with everything else and don’t spend too much time on a specific task."--Ekaterina Walter, global social innovation strategist at Intel.

4. Never Enter The Kitchen Empty-Handed

"My [restaurant] manager drilled into my head to never enter the kitchen empty-handed. If you see your hands empty, ask 'Is there a dish I can clear or food I can bring out?' I look specifically for opportunities to kill two (or better yet a flock) birds with one stone."--Kaihan Krippendorff, author of Outthink the Competition

5. Get Tough With Self-Imposed Deadlines

"If it it didn't warrant an immediate response and now has zero impact, recognize it's not vital to your existence or input, toss it and move on," or as Shark Kevin O'Leary says, 'You're dead to me.'"--David Brier, chief executive at DBD International.

6. Make Sharing Easier With Dropbox

"No matter where I am, I can send a client, potential client, speaker agent, meeting planner--anyone--a file they need to keep my business moving forward."--Dayna Steele

7. Get A Dog

"Adopting a dog from the Buffalo City Animal Shelter was actually the most productive thing I did in 2012. Short-leash training walks force me to think about what I'm doing that day, what I did yesterday, and visualize how things will work when I act on them."--Kevin Purdy, Fast Company contributor.

8. Try Clear

Clear is an app that aims only to "better pen and paper more than anything else.”--Nik Fletcher, product manager for Clear maker Realmac Software.

9. Impose The 50/10 Rule

"Solo-task and do more faster by working in 50/10-minute increments," advises career coach Amber Rae.

10. Test Early To Save Time Later

Josh Gosfield and Camille Sweeney, authors of the upcoming book The Art of Doing, say testing was a recurring theme when they interviewed Bill Gross, founder of tech incubator Idealab. Gross was adamant about testing a product or service before going to market, in an environment as close as possible to the real thing. They decided to do the same with their book. "We printed out the cover, wrapped it around an actual book, and went to Barnes & Noble," says Gosfield. "We learned a lot about how actual book buyers responded to the cover. And we got back to the publisher and asked for changes to be made based on what we’d learned. "

11. Tilt At Windmills

"There's no app, productivity technique or idea that can be more effective than a crazy huge challenge and a short time deliver against," says John Boiler, CEO of 72andSunny. "High pressure. High stakes. High expectations. That's what motivates and focuses productivity."

11 Productivity Hacks From Super-Productive People

Need something to light a fire under you in the New Year? Here's your match.

Productivity is a hot topic at Fast Company, and one that our contributors and the CEO types we cover spend time thinking about (efficiently, before crossing it off a list, of course).

In 2012, I got addicted to swiping to-dos off the super-minimalist Clear app, and when I got lazy about doing the stuff on it, imposed a 50/10 rule on myself. Tell us about the productivity hacks that you'll be trying out in the New Year, and check out these (totally manageable!) tips from other successful, super-productive members of the Fast Company community here:

Keep Email From Crushing You With "OHIO"

That stands for "only handle it once"--a technique that's espoused by productivity expert Bob Pozen and practiced by Huge CEO and Fast Company contributor Aaron Shapiro.

"No 'I'll respond later' is allowed," Shapiro says. "Responding later means you take three times longer to get through your email than taking care of it the first time, because responding later means you have to waste time finding and rereading that email... or even worse, the time wasted reminding yourself over and over to get to that message."

(It should be noted: Shapiro responded quickly to our request for productivity tips. He's not lying.)

Chuck Your To-Do Lists
"I'm following the advice I give my own clients. I'm no longer creating to-do-lists, which seem to go on forever," says Roberta Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting. "Anything is worth doing, it goes on my calendar."

Restrict Your Social Media Diet
Ekaterina Walter is a global social innovation strategist at Intel, so if anyone has an excuse to glut on social media, it's her. But even social media pros have to set parameters to avoid being sucked in.

"I am very active socially, which means daily interactions on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other social networks," Walter says. "Couple that with keeping up with all the news around social business and the activity can take up a chunk of your daily routine. So I set a timer for those activities to ensure I am on track with everything else and don’t spend too much time on a specific task."

Never Enter The Kitchen Empty-Handed
Kaihan Krippendorff, author of Outthink the Competition, uses a lesson from his days in food service to keep his days flowing smoothly.

"I waited tables for four years in college and may have captured more useful lessons there than I did in my thermo-dynamics or option-pricing classes," Krippendorff says. "For example, my manager drilled into my head to never enter the kitchen empty-handed. If you see your hands empty, ask 'Is there a dish I can clear or food I can bring out?'"

This way, he says, every motion counts....twice. This year, he put that habit to work in his daily routines.

"When I look at my priorities, decide which I should prioritize and which I should just not do, I look specifically for opportunities to kill two (or better yet a flock) birds with one stone."

Get Tough With Self-Imposed Deadlines
David Brier, chief executive at DBD International, looks for bottlenecks in his work--incessantly bothersome tasks like email (there it is again!).

"Determine the amount of traffic you get (could be emails, or whatever) in an area that bottlenecks, then decide on a 'cut-off' period for that traffic," he advises.

For example, if you have non-urgent emails that you've left for later, determine a time period after which you toss them--be it days or weeks.

"If it didn't warrant an immediate response and now has zero impact, recognize it's not vital to your existence or input, toss it and move on," he says. "Or as Shark Kevin O'Leary says, 'You're dead to me.'"

Make Sharing Easier
Dayna Steele has one word for a more productive year: Dropbox.

"No matter where I am, I can send a client, potential client, speaker agent, meeting planner--anyone--a file they need to keep my business moving forward," says Steele.

Tilt At Windmills
"There's no app, productivity technique, or idea that can be more effective than a crazy huge challenge and a short time to deliver against," says John Boiler, CEO of 72andSunny. "High pressure. High stakes. High expectations. That's what motivates and focuses productivity."

Get A Dog
"Adopting a dog from the Buffalo City Animal Shelter was actually the most productive thing I did in 2012," says Kevin Purdy, Fast Company contributor and former contributing editor at Lifehacker.

"He takes up time, sure, but forcing me to take short-leash training walks--the kind that don't lend themselves to phone staring--also forces me to think about what I'm doing that day, what I did yesterday, and visualize how things will work when I act on them."

Here's to a more productive 2013. Tell us what you're trying in the comments, or hit up the Co.Lead daily newsletter for more recommendations.

[Image: Flickr user Patrick Brosset]

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16 Comments

  • industrialmom

    I have recently transitioned to an executive position that requires me to direct my attention and time to strategy, planning and of course, meetings. Therefore, I have to delegate the 'work-work' that I was used to doing to the coordinator that I recently hired, or to others on our team. If I don't, I've found that it ends with me and the project or task gets dragged out more than it should. When the job is important, or specifically my responsibility I put it on my calendar, as Paul suggests, and allocate the amount of time I need that day, or over a series of days to get it done. 

    The OHIO reference is new to me, though, and I am going to embrace it like one of my own today!   

  • Jenny

    I'm still hanging onto my to-do lists (there's nothing more satisfying than being able to check off your accomplishments at the end of the day!), but there's great advice in this post. One of the keys is "bias toward action", which helps fuel the creative mind and increases productivity. Here's what we think! http://www.dtelepathy.com/blog...

  • Warren Wooden

    email is the biggest killer of time for me, and something I've had to spend time learning to adjust my habits to. Add to the fact that I have several email accounts (work/home/etc.)
    Without some form of discipline, I'd never even get started in the mornings, and couldn't be productive if I tried!

  • Marjorie R. Asturias

    Can I just say that I LOVE the advice about adopting a dog? And yes, the short-leash training (or just leaving the phone in the pocket) is one of the best ways to not only bond with your dog but also keep him or her safe. I once ran into a woman who was so distracted by whatever was on her phone that her dog's leash slipped out of her hands when the pup ran after *my* dog. Did I mention that her dog was a six-pound Yorkie, not an 80-lb Lab? Thankfully I grabbed her dog's leash in time before it got too far away. 

    I have a million things to do, what with running a company, volunteering with a local animal rescue group, keeping my four-dog-and-a-husband household running, and helping that same husband launch and manage his new nonprofit. But yes, I still make time to walk with my dogs almost every day. It not only clears my head and helps keep us as a strong "family unit," but it gives all of us plenty of much-needed exercise.

    Cheers,
    Marjorie

  • Matthew Loop

    Now, that's a great article. I would've added have an accountability partner, too. That helps you with your deadline meeting ability. Also, people have grown too accustomed to letting themselves down. However, it's much harder to commit, drop the ball, and let others down when you've made an agreement. 

  • Howard Stein

    I will second the Get A Dog suggestion. Living in an apartment in New York City, I walk my two boxers an hour, first thing in the morning. They then get taken out a further three times before bed time for a quick pee. With so many dogs on the street the walks force me to focus on the dogs and my surroundings, so very little daydreaming takes place. This is time I am forced to afford. It prevents me from defaulting back to the screen.

  • Lori Rubinger

    Some great and "timely" Priority management tips. The obliteration of the TO DO list forces some quick strategic decisions.

  • Mark Simchock

    Here's four more:

    12) Avoid multi-tasking. It's over-rated.

    13) Also avoid anything that can be distracting but might not seems as such. For example, lately I've found that even background talk radio (read: NPR) can be enough to divert me in subtle but measurable ways. Music seems doable as long as it's out of immediate reach (i.e., not in the browser where I can be tempted). My point is, you can easily pin-prick your brain / attention to death with too many micro-distractions. 

    14) The same applies to emails...they breed. Send one you get at least one. Send zero, you're not likely to get a reply ;) 

    15) Use the appropriate device and amount of time for the matter at hand. If I had $20 for every time I received a quick reply but ultimately incomplete or inappropriate answer from a mobile device (read: smartphone) I'd be a very wealthy man. If you can't properly address a question (because you're at your kid's soccer game) or a touch screen isn't sufficient for the number of keystrokes an adequate answer is going to require, then don't fake it. Wait. Let it go until you can give a full and proper answer to the request. In other words, a reply is not an answer. 

    In short, pennies, nickles and dimes add up.

    Back to work...

  • Ehab Bandar

    As a busy new dad, I've found restricting myself to 3 things a day
    works wonders to keep me focused on what matters. So much so, I created an app
    called 3Things to help me add and track my 3 things. The importance of this hack was eloquently made on Quora here http://www.quora.com/Startups/.... To read more about the 3Things app, check out http://dothreetings.com

  • Paul H. Burton

    I'm always fascinated by the overly simple solutions to complex operations. The Only Touch it Once concept is quaint. It assumes you have both the authority to say no to requests and unlimited time to handle each item that's coming over the gunnels throughout the day. For those of us who process 200 e-mails per day, the reality is that we need to dynamic triaging model for identifying what something is and, if it requires our attention, when we'll have time to attend to it. My method - QuietSpacing (Amazon) - is just that style of sorting and queueing system and it was developed specifically to deal with the modern interruption-ridden workplace.

    I have similar distain for the advice on abandoning to-do lists, especially when the answer is "put it on my calendar." That's just another name for a to-do list if it contains action items.  Moreover, lobbing everything into one place - appointments and action items - is really a much messier way of managing two separate sets of responsibilities. Appointments are "hard-coded time" meaning they require our presence and (supposedly) our attention at a certain time at a certain place (even on the phone) discussing a certain subject. Tasks are soft-coded time, which means they must be fit in between all the hard-coded areas of our day. Keep the lists separate and you'll have a far more effective model for getting things done.

    Finally, any action that increases focus increased productivity. Of particular note are practices that quiet down our mind. Suggestions include:

    - Keeping the door mostly closed to minimize interruptions by passersby.
    - Facing away from the door so that peripheral vision doesn't cause us to look up.
    - Turning off new e-mail and message alerts to minimize the effects of the Startle Response.

    Those are few that my clients find very useful. Good luck in '13!

  • Jeremy H

    You say to chuck your todo list but then you go on to say that we should try Clear... Clear is a todo list app.

  • Erin Schulte

    To-dos (and the Clear app) work for me--but not for Roberta. To each her own.