One reason for the endless discussion is that each of us is so different—saddled or equipped, as the case may be, with our own personality quirks, working habits, and task-lists to conquer.
So we've asked some of our most prolific contributors to share their top productivity tips. Hopefully these 10 strategies can help you make 2016 your most productive year yet.
You know how YouTube automatically serves you another video after you've finished watching the one you wanted to see? Author and researcher Dr. Josh Davis cautions against becoming a human YouTube channel. "Right before you start a task, take a moment—it doesn't have to be more than a minute or two, he says, "and ask yourself, 'Is this something that really matters to me today?'"
That can feel "like a waste of time," Davis concedes, "but those pauses are brief. What really wastes time is getting going on a task that isn't so important, only to see the whole morning pass you by."
Intractable problems can become black holes. So Scott Eblin has this advice: "Quit thinking about it. There’s a ton of interesting new research out that proves we need to leave time in our days for unconscious thought. It’s during those times that the best ideas (and solutions) pop up."
You can even build time for unconscious thought into your schedule. Ellevest founder Sallie Krawcheck blocks out the first 90 minutes of her day for that purpose. "I head to the kitchen, get a cup of coffee, and sit in front of the computer and just start writing," she says.
"I tend to wake up with ideas, and I try to get them all out of my head and written down before my conscious mind starts to censor itself." The point isn't to mine for brilliance, just to shake everything loose and sort through it later.
"Some of the ideas are perplexing when I read them later, but some are actually pretty good. A few are even great (in my opinion)."
But not just any playlist. Don't just pile up 50 of your favorite songs and hit "shuffle." Instead, advises Inkling founder and CEO Matt MacInnis, "create a 30-minute playlist of energizing, lyric-free songs, and close the applications that distract you, like email, Twitter, and Slack until the playlist is over. Then purposefully indulge in some distraction until you start your next playlist."
Communication expert Anett Grant puts it this way: "Perfectionism is the predator of productivity." Other productivity hacks, in this view, pale in comparison to just knowing when good enough really is good enough.
Social networking has plenty of upsides, but managing a bloated web of connections isn't one of them. Sava Berhané, associate director of Bentley University's Center for Women and Business, has a simple solution: "At the end of each quarter, I take stock of what relationships are producing results, productivity, and happiness in my life, and I look to double down on what’s working and cut the remaining fat judiciously," she says.
"This is especially necessary for women," she adds, "who often take on work and relationships that help but don’t pay off." The point isn't to "burn bridges but to cut unhelpful, exhausting, and unrewarding relationships."
We've been hearing for years that multitasking is a bad idea. But author and emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf says that point still needs reiterating: "Focus on one task at a time...Multitasking is a myth, and I find if I try [it] none of the tasks will be done well."
To help you "monotask," Deutschendorf suggests mindfulness activities like meditating. "I meditate daily, finding that it helps clear the mind, helping me focus more clearly and intentionally."
Too often, our time manages us and not the other way around. Time coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders says taking control is about setting boundaries.
The good news: You can be as arbitrary as you like as to what those limits are. "You could have a rule of no more than two networking meetings per week or no more than four client calls per day," she says. Stick to those rules, then adjust them as needed. This approach "allows you to make sure that you're not over-investing in one area to the detriment of another."
Cooking might not strike you as a productivity tip, but it's one that author Faisal Hoque has found helpful. Unlike the short bursts of tactical execution that tend to keep us busy over the course of a workday, cooking is more about process and decision-making. As Hoque sees it, that nurtures mindfulness, creativity, and the patience it takes to build mastery.
Maybe instant gratification isn't all that bad. Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has some counterintuitive advice: "Do fun things immediately and leave annoying or uninteresting things till the last minute."
Why? Because "fun and interesting tasks are inherently motivating."
Slideshow Credits: 02 / Photo: Flickr user Chris Brown; 03 / Photo: Flickr user Shever; 04 / Photo: Flickr user Fredrik Rubensson; 05 / Photo: Flickr user Vox Efx; 06 / Photo: Flickr user Katie Cook; 07 / Photo: Flickr user Russell James Smith; 08 / Photo: Flickr user petzoj; 09 / Photo: Flickr user jkbeitz; 10 / Photo: Flickr user Joanna Bourne; 11 / Photo: Flickr user August Brill;