Productivity: The Definitive Guide

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Productivity: The Definitive Guide

Productivity: The Ultimate Guide to Help You Identify What Needs to Be Done—And Bang It Out In Record Time

Productivity—like sleep, sex, and exercise—directly relates to our happiness. (And like the above, we can’t get enough.)

We all want to be productive—but are we?

We “leverage” productivity apps to try to empty our inbox, automate workflows, and get more things done. And yet the work towers up around us, blocking our mental corridors until we barely see the way out.

Why? Why do we feel unproductive? And why do days fly by—without any real results?

The problem is this: We’ve become reactive to others demands, instead of proactive with our long-term goals.

In other words, we’ve become busybodies doing busywork.

In this guide, you’ll discover simple, proven strategies to boost your productivity by: focusing on what matters, developing rock-solid routines, and getting it done.

You’ll wake up every day, refreshed, and ready to tackle the day. And best of all, you’ll get more done—in less time—than ever before.

Productivity: The Ultimate Guide to Help You Identify What Needs to Be Done—And Bang It Out In Record Time

Chapter 1:
Productivity fundamentals: the 5 things you must do to boost your productivity

In this chapter, you’ll discover the fundamentals of productivity—and how to set a rock-solid productive base.

Whether you’re just getting started or looking to boost your productivity, this chapter’s got you covered.

We’re talking about sleep, exercise, diet—the things that set you up for a healthy, balanced, productive life.

Warning: you may be tempted to skip this chapter because they “seem obvious.” As you’ll soon see, doing the obvious can be much more difficult—and rewarding—than you realize. Don’t skip this step!

Key takeaways:

  • Exercise (even a little) boosts productivity.
  • Wake up early. If you have trouble going to bed earlier, take magnesium supplements.
  • Only one person in 40 functions well on less than 7–8 hours of sleep. You’re probably not one of them.

Scientific study: Researchers at University and Karolinska Institute discovered that exercise boosts productivity.

They separated workplaces into three groups: the first group spent 2.5 hours of their work week exercising; the second group spent the 2.5 hours however they liked, and the third group maintained their usual work hours.

Results: All three groups were able to maintain or increase their output. The group who exercised also reported a greater sense of productivity, and were sick less often.

Chapter 2:
The big picture: How to develop laser-focus so you can lead a more meaningful life

Focus is your most critical skill for productivity. When entering your flow-state, your mind calm, alert, and confident; you work better (and faster) than attempting to multi-task.

In this chapter, you’ll learn to zoom out, take in the bird’s eye view, then zoom in on your biggest opportunity with laser-like precision.

Key takeaways:

  • Put your big goals where you’ll see them throughout the day.
  • Think deeply; act boldly.
  • Take brief breaks to maintain your focus.

Scientific study: University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras conducted a study to see if a short break improved focus.Subjects did a repetitive computerized task for one hour. One group was given four digits before performing the task, and told to respond if they saw the number appear during the task.

Results: Subjects without the break saw a significant decline in performance; those with the break saw no drop in their performance over time.

Chapter 3:
How to set up rock-solid routines that guarantee success

Now that you’ve identified your long-term goals, you need routines (or “rituals”) to help get you there.

But don’t worry: routines needn’t take up much of your time. (In fact, they shouldn’t take up more than a few hours of your day. But these will be your most productive hours of the day.)

In this chapter, you’ll learn how the most productive people on the planet leverage their daily routines to produce insane results working just a few hours a day.

Key takeaways:

  • Set up—and stick to—a daily routine.
  • Use emotional (positive and negative) triggers. Example: use the same place to work, listen to the same music, etc.
  • Use ultradian rhythms; work no more than 90 minutes at a time.
  • Show up to work—even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Action trumps intention; habit beats willpower.
  • Do what matters most, first. Your willpower decreases throughout the day.
  • Routines decrease decisions—which increase productivity.

Scientific study: Research led by Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Minnesota wanted to see if decision-making depleted self-control.In four studies, subjects made choices among consumer goods or college course options, while the other group merely thought about them (i.e. they didn’t make any decisions).

Results: Subjects who had to make a choice showed less physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations.

Chapter 4:
How to get rid of distractions that drain your productivity, create anxiety, and attack your self-esteem

The average person consumes up to 15.5 hours of media per day. That’s a lot of distraction.

This chapter reveals simple—but often overlooked—things you can do today to block distractions. Not only will you accomplish your goals faster than you ever thought possible, you’ll also experience a sense of relief and Zen-like calm with your extra headspace.

Key takeaways:

  • Turn off to turn on. The most productive thing you’ll ever do is turn everything off. That’s when the magic happens.
  • Be more conscious—and less compulsive. Everything you do—or don’t do—should be a conscious decision that attacks your long-term goals.
  • Say no—frequently. Saying no is perhaps the greatest productive tactic ever created. Try “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” to boost assertiveness.
  • Alternate doing creative work with “mindless” work. Doing so gives your brain a break.
  • Distractions distract—even if you ignore them. Even the presence of distractions—for example, having a Gmail tab open—slows your productivity.

Scientific study: A research team lead by Erik Altmann wanted to see if short-term interruptions—lasting as little as 2.8 seconds—affected performance.Subjects completed tasks on a computer. While they worked, an interruption appeared on their screen—and researchers logged how many errors subjects made when returning to the task.

Results: Interruptions averaging 2.8 seconds doubled the number of errors; interruptions averaging 4.4 seconds tripled them.

Chapter 5: Mindfulness: how to achieve a Zen-like calm to get more done—and find enlightenment along the way

Productivity is both strategic and tactical. You must think deeply, then act boldly and consistently.

Mindfulness is the glue between strategy and tactics. It helps you focus on the big picture and do your best work without distraction.

This chapter contains everything you need to know about mindfulness. You’ll discover meditation practices to calm your mind, focus longer, and effortlessly boost your productivity.

Key takeaways:

  • Meditation works. Try it.
  • Let your mind wander—but not too far. Imagine your mind is a balloon; your focus, the string. Let the balloon float, but keep a loose grip on the string to remain focused. There’s a huge difference between creative wandering—and just spacing out.
  • Leverage downtime to get more done. Enjoy the time away from the phone; use it to reflect on your purpose in life.
  • Work on fun, creative projects that have nothing to do with your long-term goals. Do them because you enjoy them. The benefit is that you’re building other creative muscles, which may work across disciplines in strange and exciting ways.

Scientific study: Researchers at the University of Washington and University of Arizona measured the effects of meditation on stress. Subjects were given eight weeks of training in mindfulness meditation, then given a stressful multitasking test both before and after training. Another group received training in body relaxation techniques. The third group received no training at all.

Results: Subjects who received meditation training reported lower levels of stress and showed better memory for the tasks they had performed; they also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer.

Chapter 6: Staying accountable (or, how to crush your inner slacker—forever)

Actions are eloquent; intentions, inarticulate.

This chapter reveals how to keep yourself accountable, so you continue to deliver high-quality work, every time, on time.

Some of these strategies may be familiar to you, others not—but they’re all invaluable to achieving long-term success.

Key takeaways:

  • Make your progress visible. Often the most important work takes more than 50 hours, which makes it difficult to see your progress. That’s why people check email so much; it feels good to reach “inbox zero” even though you’re neglecting what really matters.
  • Separate the “Creator” and the “Editor.” Hemingway said to write drunk; edit sober. Treat life the same: during your initial process (post, painting, or project) go wild and crazy. Then revisit it to make it better.
  • Leverage the Zeigarnik effect (see “scientific study” below). Humans have a natural tendency to finish what start. (Or at least, we want to finish what we start, if not for those damn distractions!)

Scientific study: The Zeigarnik Effect—named after Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist Bluma Zeigarnik—is the tendency to remember things we haven’t completed—but forgetting them once complete.

Results: Zeigarnik first noticed the effect when she noticed waiters could remember complex orders with ease—until after the food was delivered. Once delivered, the waiters completely forgot about them, and could not recall them later. (Source: Zeigarnik 1927: Das Behalten erledigter und unerledigter Handlungen. Psychologische Forschung 9, 1-85.)

Chapter 7: How to boost your business’s productivity using proven frameworks for success

Warning: if your team is individually productive, your business ain’t getting shit done.

It seems paradoxical: how can you have a business where everyone is working at maximum productivity—and still get nothing done?

Here’s why: most companies don’t apply the Theory of Constraints, which says you must focus on the main constraint—also called the bottleneck—and nothing else.

Words to live by: Focusing on the bottleneck isn’t the most important thing—it’s the only thing.

In this chapter, you’ll learn how to apply the Theory of Constraints–and other proven business productivity frameworks—to build efficiencies into your business or workplace.

Key takeaways:

  • Define “done” before you start. This is taken from Scrum, and it’s super important—otherwise, you’ll think something is done, but it isn’t.
  • Work-in-progress kills productivity. Minimize work-in-progress as much as possible; finish the job at hand now, before conflicting projects can delay it further.
  • Ship something, every day.
  • Constraints are sexy. A blank canvas is the hardest to paint. By setting constraints, you focus on what you can realistically get done, instead of falling into the “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” mentality, where you come up with wildly creative—but nearly impossible to implement—ideas.

Scientific study: Sociometric Solutions anonymously tracked Bank of America call center employees for three months.Based on the data, they recommended that employees take breaks together, instead of individually.

Results: Because employees now had a chance to blow off steam and share tips, productivity increased 15–20%, reported stress levels dropped 19%, and turnover decreased from 40% to 12%—all from one simple change.

Chapter 8: Productivity case studies to help you understand what’s possible—and what’s at stake

These case studies demonstrate how people are boosting productivity, crushing procrastination, and blocking distractions with ease.

This chapter will inspire you to boost your productivity—and provide a pick-me-up when things don’t go according to plan.

Chapter 9: Out-of-the-box productivity strategies to turbocharge your results

We’re heading into strange territory. From procrastination to writing naked, these tactics aren’t for the feint of heart.

But if you’re looking for something different, and aren’t afraid to experiment, this chapter is for you.

Key takeaways:

  • Using Parkinson’s law, put off items until the last minute; the time pressure forces you to focus, and get stuff done super quick.
  • Try something impossible. Start something that is 100% guaranteed to fail—and keep working on it. Doing so shocks your brain and makes normal challenges seem easy by comparison.

Chapter 10: The best productivity books, ever

Most productivity books rehash the same old information. But this chapter contains the “vital few” productivity books you must read.

Chapter 11: An up-to-date collection of the best productivity tools and hacks

This chapter includes a hard-hitting collection of productivity tools that actually work.

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100 Quotes to Inspire and Motivate You
100 Quotes to Inspire and Motivate You

Bonus: Contains a free PDF of inspirational quotes to keep you productive—whether you like it or not. 🙂

And if you’re looking for a inspiration now, check out these Inspirational Quotes.

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Quincy Seale

Quincy is KIM's lead editor and content writer, and has invested in online properties since 2009. Quincy holds an MBA from the University of Dundee and an MSc from the University of Edinburgh, and lives in San Antonio with his wife Natalie, son Alex, and his dog Oban.