Like many of you, I tend to pile my plate high with to-do items, and am always keeping one eye open for new ways of tackling that workload more efficiently. How can we pack more accomplishments into our fleeting hours?
As you are probably aware, productivity tips sometimes feel rather general or vague. We all know by this point that, ideally, we should spend more time sleeping and less time multitasking. But what are the little things that business leaders are doing to give themselves an edge?
Celine Roque compiled a great list of specific techniques used by marketing experts like Seth Godin and Ann Handley—along with action-oriented suggestions for incorporating these tips into your workday. You’re likely surrounded by potential ways to tweak your productivity levels.
The following post originally appeared on the Central Desktop blog.
Productivity is on the mind of everyone who does any kind of knowledge work. Whether we feel like we’re not doing enough or we’re doing too much, we’re all just looking for that sweet spot where we get the important stuff done and get enough rest or leisure at the end of the day.
The good news is that if you’re just starting to figure things out, you don’t need to start from scratch. Here’s how the web’s top marketers get things done:
#1 – Seth Godin stays away from distractions like Twitter and blog comments.
Seth Godin almost needs no introduction, but for those who need to jog their memory, he is the author of classics such as Purple Cow and Permission Marketing. He also has a daily blog where he writes about marketing, media, and creativity.
One reason Godin is so prolific? He avoids spending his energy and attention on distractions that don’t matter to his work – and in Godin’s case, those distractions include Twitter and blog comments. In an interview with Ad Age, he said:
“What works for me of course won’t work for everyone. But for me, the issues are distraction, time management, the little voice of self-doubt and the desire to push through the Dip of mattering. Comments and Twitter are like a Fresnel lens. You can use them to focus attention if you’re very disciplined and very good, or, if you’re like me, you’ll end up finding your energy and attention diffused into a maelstrom, lost to the winds of inanity, anger or trivia. It’s in my DNA. I can’t do it, just as I can’t read in the car.”
How to use this tip: Evaluate how you spend time and figure out the tasks that give you great returns and really help you accomplish your goals. If you find that you’re doing a lot of busywork that doesn’t really matter, even if you think you “should” be doing them, it might be a good idea to minimize the time you spend on them or drop them altogether.
#2 – Belle Beth Cooper dramatically shortened her writing time by working only until noon.
Belle Beth Cooper joined Buffer in 2013 as their first Content Crafter, regularly writing posts that got tens of thousands of social media shares. As a result of her work with Buffer, Forbes named her as one of the Top 10 Online Marketers to Follow in 2014. While working with Buffer, Cooper was also writing on her personal blog, as well as the blog for Exist, a personal analytics startup that she founded. This workload meant that each week, she was writing three to four posts for Buffer plus another one or two posts for Exist – and all these posts are high-quality and deeply researched.
A major factor of Cooper’s prolific output was her ability to shorten the time she spent writing posts. What typically took her two days to accomplish became reduced to a four-hour task. Here’s how she explained it:
“On a day I’m working at Buffer, my day now looks something like this (keeping in mind that I’ve been working part-time at Buffer for the last few months, so I no longer have extra tasks besides writing blog posts): 7am: Get up, drink coffee, read, generally just sit around and wake up; 8am-12pm: Start writing today’s Buffer post; 12-1pm: Lunch; 1-2pm: Complete any editing that needs doing on my last Buffer post”
Following this schedule meant that Cooper was usually done with her workday by lunchtime. “The high of taking my lunch break knowing my day’s work is done is huge,” she added.
How to use this tip: Set shorter deadlines and work shorter hours than your norm. By being firm about your daily deadlines, you may find that there are many extraneous tasks you can drop and that you can get things done sooner than expected.
#3 – Joe Pulizzi writes his blog posts and books concurrently.
Joe Pulizzi has a lot on his plate as the founder of Content Marketing Institute (CMI), an author with three books under his belt, as well as regular speaking engagements. In an interview with Heinz Marketing, Pulizzi talked about how he manages to run CMI, contribute to both their blog and podcast, as well as work on his books:
“I’ve co-written two books and wrote the most recent book solo. Much of that content comes from blog posts, and I planned for that to happen. When I start thinking about writing a book, I start putting the chapter together and then blog them out one by one. It makes the actual book writing process so much easier and efficient.”
How to use this tip: How can you channel your existing efforts into higher levels of production? Can you organize your existing blog posts in a book like Pulizzi has done? Are there ways for you to repurpose your work output into a bigger project? Think about how you can apply Pulizzi’s idea to further leverage the energy and effort you’re already spending.
#4 – Ramit Sethi uses “The Iceberg Method” to quickly apply lessons from the books he’s read.
Ramit Sethi might be best known for his New York Times Bestseller book, I Will Teach You to be Rich, or for his popular blog of the same name, but the way he markets his book and his products has turned his brand into a multi-million dollar business.
Sethi never stops learning and he uses what he calls “Ramit’s Book Buying Rule,” which states that if ever you ask “Should I buy this book or not?” the answer should always be “Just buy it!” This is because he feels that books have a great ROI – if you get just one or two good ideas from them, then the $10 you paid for the book would have already been worth it.
But then the problem becomes more complex. How do you make sure that you apply all the lessons you’ve learned from a book, article, or any other information source? You can use what he calls “The Iceberg Method,” which he briefly describes as:
“I would rather have you read one book and apply it than read twenty five books and do nothing with it. File away readings that might someday be useful, tag them properly, schedule 4 to 6 weeks to review these and apply to whatever you’re working on.”
How to use this tip: Review the last book or article you read. List one or two things you could do to make some quick applications of what you’ve learned from the book or article, then schedule when you’re going to execute it. Plus, add a monthly calendar reminder to perform the same review process for the books or articles you’ve read in the past month.
#5 – Clay Collins uses a “Marketing Productivity Quadrant” to achieve business goals.
As the co-founder and CEO of LeadPages, a software-as-a-service company that helps businesses build an audience, Clay Collins has to be strategic about growing his company. But here’s the twist: he hates the idea of productivity. Instead, what he does for his business is to have a goal setting system that’s tied to a specific revenue number. He calls this system the Marketing Productivity Quadrant, which he explains in a tutorial video:
“[T]his productivity system is basically four quadrants. It’s that simple. And these quadrants could be written down on a piece of paper, they could be written down on your hand, a 3 by 5 card, it really doesn’t matter. You don’t need any complicated technology to do this.”
Here’s how the quadrants are set up:
- First quadrant: Write down one activity for the month and this activity needs to help you reach your business’ monthly goal (in Collins’ example, this is $200,000).
- Second quadrant: Write down one task for the week that you need to do to bring in one-fourth of the money you need to make each month (in Collins’ example, this is $50,000).
- Third quadrant: Write down one task for each productive day that will help you bring in the needed amount to reach your goal (in Collins’ example, the assumption is that the business has 2 productive days, which need to bring in around $25,000 each day).
- Fourth quadrant: Write down the thing that you can do right now to help you finish the task you’ve written in the third quadrant.
How to use this tip: Watch Collins’ 8-minute video explaining the system and see how you can apply it to you business – especially if you find it difficult to hit your revenue goals.
#6 – Valeria Maltoni maps out the big picture.
Valeria Maltoni runs Conversation Agent, a leading marketing blog that especially focuses on marketing being a “long conversation” between parties. In this long conversation, marketers often tend to get lost in daily tacticals such as the right tools to use, which is the best time to post Twitter updates, and how much to budget for a specific campaign. Rather than letting your tactics take over, Matoni suggests looking at the big picture from time to time:
“You miss the big picture — you spend too much time in the weeds, and you’re totally immersed at the tactical level. We feel your pain. Ever wonder if what you’re doing is the right thing for you? Big picture hack: use Prezi to map out the whole ecosystem and context around your project and spend some time looking at it whole. A flip chart would do, except you want to have the freedom to make tweaks.”
How to use this tip: When was the last time you looked at the big picture of both your life and your work? If you don’t do this often, do as Maltoni suggested and sit down to draw the bigger picture around your personal and professional projects.
#7 – Neil Patel makes 60-second decisions.
Neil Patel is the co-founder of several marketing software startups, including CrazyEgg and Kissmetrics. He also regularly writes about marketing for his Quick Sprout blog and his personal blog. In an article for Inc., Patel suggests making quick decisions:
“Decision making is a time-draining vortex. When you’re faced with a decision in the course of your work, give yourself a one-minute limit. Your decision will be just as good, but it will take less time.”
Sure, it might not apply to all kinds of decisions, but you’d be surprised at the amount of situations where it applies.
How to use this tip: The next time you need to make a minor decision, whether it’s where to go to lunch, which type of coffee to get, or which song to play in the background while working, make the decision in 60 seconds.
#8 – Rand Fishkin reviews the false narratives he tells himself.
Rand Fishkin is the founder of Moz (formerly SEOMoz), an inbound marketing software company that provides subscriptions to tools like Followerwonk and Open Site Explorer. He also co-founded Inbound.org with Dharmesh Shah (who appears later in this list).
In a thought-provoking blog post, Fishkin discusses negative self-talk, which can take over our work performance, our decision-making, and our lives. Because of this, it’s important to regularly check the stories we tell ourselves, including stories of both failure and success. Fishkin notes how he did exactly that :
“Try this exercise – write down, in a few sentences, the arc of your recent career history (maybe the last job or two you’ve had) and why things happened the way they did. Now go try to poke holes in it. Find the places where the story you’ve told yourself might not be accurate – where you’re projecting feelings or motivations onto other people or yourself in ways that could be a stretch. Does that change the lessons you’ve learned? Does it change the future decisions you should make? How much of the story, and the reasons behind each plot point in the narrative can you verify to be 100% true?”
How to use this tip: Think about the negative self-talk you often play in your mind. What harmful things do you repeatedly tell yourself? Evaluate them using the questions Fishkin suggested to get closer to the truth, rather than just mindlessly repeating in your head something that might be a lie.
#9 – Ann Handley has a separate, minimalist place where she can sit down to work.
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, an educational site for marketers, and is the author of content marketing books such as Everybody Writes and Content Rules. Last year, Handley built a small house – a one-room building slightly bigger than a shed – in her backyard to minimize distractions and have a firmer separation between her work life and her home life. In a post about this decision, she writes about discovering how author E.B. White had his own cottage for writing:
“So I build my tiny house because I wanted a place like E.B. White’s, with close to nothing in it, where all the oxygen in the room would be mine, mine, mine. A place where I could focus on work I love, and more work I love, because there’s nothing else on which to focus anyway.”
How to use this tip: While you don’t have to build a shed or a tiny house, look for a small room or partition in your home that you can use as a workspace where you won’t be interrupted by neighbors, phone calls, or the other people who live with you.
#10 – Tim Ferriss has a strict morning routine for reviewing his daily tasklist.
Tim Ferriss is a renowned entrepreneur and investor who has used his marketing skills to turn his books, The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Chef, into bestsellers.
Ferriss often emphasizes the differences between getting things done quickly (efficiency) and getting the right things done (efficacy). To help with the latter, he includes the following ritual into his morning routine:
“Write down the 3-5 things — and no more — that are making you most anxious or uncomfortable. They’re often things that have been punted from one day’s to-do list to the next, to the next, to the next, and so on. Most important usually = most uncomfortable, with some chance of rejection or conflict.”
For each item on this list, Ferriss recommends that you ask the following questions:
- “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
- “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”
How to use this tip: Write down the above steps and do them tomorrow morning, as you’re waiting for your coffee to finish brewing (or tea, in Ferriss’ case).
#11 – Heidi Cohen gives herself “me-time.”
Heidi Cohen’s Actionable Marketing Guide is one of the most widely read marketing blogs. She also works as the president and founder of Riverside Marketing Strategies, which provides social media and content marketing services. Last year, Entrepreneur named her among the Top 50 Online Marketing Influencers.
In a blog post, Cohen reminds her readers to unplug as a way to recharge their energies. This includes enjoying “me-time”, as Cohen writes, “Take a break from your computer and daily routines to do something you find fun. It can be a spa day, a movie or just lunch with the girls. I have a group of friends that gets together every Saturday to knit and gossip.”
How to use this tip: Think about the activities and interests that help you unwind, make you feel connected to others, or make you feel pampered. Make sure to add them to your schedule and to do them regularly. We need no reminder to schedule our work tasks but, sometimes, we forget to schedule “me-time” – which can be just as important.
#12 – Dharmesh Shah lets himself spend time on hobbies – even if these hobbies look like work.
Here’s a different spin on the “me-time” idea: Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO of HubSpot, once had an argument with his co-founder, who was surprised to see him publishing posts for a personal project, OnStartups. This led to a discussion about hobbies, which revealed that Shah’s hobbies looked a lot like work – and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of us are just so passionate about work that it feels like recreation.
He wrote more about this idea in a piece for Inc.:
“If you have hobbies you love, enjoy them at every possible turn. If you don’t, give yourself permission to spend time every day doing what you love, whether or not those actions fall under the dictionary definition of “hobbies” or not.”
How to use this tip: Do you feel guilty about doing some work during weekends or during what’s supposed to be your downtime? If so, evaluate how you feel about this work – is it just busywork, a way to avoid other activities, or is this the type of thing you would do anyway even if you weren’t paid for it?
#13 – Chris Brogan limits his access to screens, phone, and media to specific hours of the day.
Chris Brogan has written eight marketing books and is also the CEO of Owner Media Group, which provides marketing training for businesses. To get things done, rather than trying to do more, Brogan sets limitations on accessing devices and media throughout the day. According to a blog post he wrote, this daily practice gives him enough rest, willpower and clarity. Here are his suggested rules:
- No screens or radio after 9pm.
- No phone first thing in the AM.
- No news or radio first thing, either.
- Right before bed, a notepad to jot nagging thoughts.
- The willingness to try this for 7 days in a row.
How to use this tip: Brogan suggests applying all the above rules every day, but if you try it and you find that it’s very difficult, just act on one or two of the above rules. Maybe after seeing the difference it makes to the clarity of your mind, it will be easier to follow all these rules and the rest of his suggestions.
#14 – Ryan Holiday plays the same music on repeat while doing creative work.
Ryan Holiday is a media strategist who has worked with brands like American Apparel and Google. He’s also the author of books like Trust Me, I’m Lying and Growth Hacker Marketing. To get his writing done, Holiday listens to music – which isn’t that unusual, except that he listens to one song on repeat. Here’s how he describes the difference:
“See, part of writing–or really any creative endeavor from brainstorming to marketing–requires tuning everything out. There are a couple ways to do this. You have your noise canceling headphones or ambient noise machines. You can put your phone on “Airplane Mode” or tell everyone to leave you alone. The problem with these reductive techniques is that they leave everything a little empty. In my experience, it’s not about quiet, it’s about finding your zone. I think melodic music, played on repeat, puts you in a heightened emotional state–while simultaneously dulling your awareness to most of your surroundings. It puts you in a creative zone. The important facilities are turned on, while all the others are turned off.”
How to use this tip: If you typically listen to music while working, try picking just one song to work to and see how that affects your focus and thinking.
#15 – Mari Smith tries to build connections in-person, rather than just rely on digital connections.
When we “like” someone’s post on Facebook or leave a comment on someone’s blog, it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we’ve made a deep connection. But, social media thought leader Mari Smith doesn’t see it that way. In this interview from Beyond the To-do List, Smith suggests being mindful in the presence of others and making an effort for in-person connections. According to Smith:
“I think the part that becomes a detriment is when we use the technology for a replacement for connecting in person, as a replacement social life, as a fix, as pseudo connection. I struggle with this almost on a daily basis. I literally have to make myself get off the computer, off the phone. When I go out with friends or I’m in a social environment or in a business setting, I try to really just be mindful and not bury myself in my technology and put it away and connect with people in front of me.”
How to use this tip: The next time you’re in a meeting – personal or professional – have a private rule to just be present. Don’t check your mobile devices. If a social media expert like Smith can step away and be fully present with the person in front of her, you can do it too.
#16 – Gary Vaynerchuk is a master delegator who picks great people to work with.
When LinkedIn asked several influencers to share their productivity hacks, entrepreneur and author Gary wrote that he was a “human hacker”. Rather than be a master of efficiency, he’s able to get things done by hiring the right people to help him. Vaynerchuk wrote:
“As a matter of fact, here is my productivity hack: With Linkedin and Medium becoming bigger and bigger parts of my content strategy last year, I took one of the best content producers at my company, Steve Unwin, and had him become, in essence, my editor-in-chief. When I produce source material (like recording my thoughts for this article), he cleans it up for editorial and remixes different parts of it for Facebook, Slideshare, etc. I have an amazing assistant, I had a C.E.O. for my book. Ultimately, the way I hack is by creating a tremendous team of people around me.”
How to use this tip: Are there any areas in your work or life where you feel like you need extra help, but you’re afraid to ask? Perhaps it’s time to start taking the leap. Who in your personal or professional circles might help you? Who might be able to refer someone?
#17 – Laura Roeder reverse-engineers her goals.
Laura Roeder is the founder of LKR Social Media, which builds tools and courses for small business owners that do social media marketing. Here’s how Roeder achieves her goals for her business:
“When I have a dream, I reverse-engineer it and make it into a plan. What’s my best guess of the steps to get there? What do my team and I need to do every day, week, and month to make this thing happen? My story has very much been one of incremental progress, even when that progress moves quickly – I love to lay out a roadmap for the year ahead, and then drive down it!”
How to use this tip: Whenever you set a goal, perhaps it’s best to look at it with the endgame in sight and reverse-engineer the steps you need to take for you to get there, rather than starting with “Step 1” in mind. But, for this to work in the first place, your goal has to be specific and quantifiable. It’s hard to reverse engineer vague goals like “grow my business” or “improve our blog’s social shares.”
Just apply one thing
We gathered a very comprehensive list here, not to overwhelm you with tips, but to give you many options to choose from. Just as “The Iceberg Method” mentioned above suggests, it’s best to start applying the new things you’ve learned from a single source, rather than just gathering tips and ideas without applying anything.
So choose the one thing that resonates with you the most on this list, then try it. Once you find out whether it works for you or not, you can come back and figure out if there’s another tip you’d like to try.
There you have it! A long list, but by no means an entirely exhaustive one. Did we omit your own favorite productivity tip? Have you tried adopting any of the techniques above? We’d love to hear about your experiences.
If you’d like to learn ways to help your whole team boost productivity and improve collaboration, check out PGi’s free eBook, Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. Also be sure to check out Central Desktop by PGi, a powerful collaboration tool designed to increase productivity and make your life easier.