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]


About the author

Erin Schulte is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Fast Company, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Harper's Bazaar, and Entrepreneur, among other publications. You can find her on Twitter @erin719nyc.