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Productivity 101: Expert Tips to Achieve More in Less Time

Advice from top productivity coaches and authors on how to eliminate distractions, build efficient systems, and keep your priorities straight.

By  •   December 13, 2020  •   8 min read

We all have a finite number of hours in a day but some people seem to be able to get more done than others. The truth is, productivity is something that comes with good systems and habits.

If you’re looking for tips and best practices to be more productive, this #ManagerChats recap is for you!

We were joined by a stellar line-up of productivity enthusiasts who helped us deep dive into some of the best practices you can adopt to get done more, with less stress.

1 What does being productive mean to you?

“A key part of what productivity means to me is about focus. Eliminating distractions so that time you do spend focusing is time well spent.”

– Stacey Harmon, Digital Productivity and Organization Consultant

“To me, productivity is really all about being EFFICIENT + EFFECTIVE so you can spend less time doing what you HAVE to do, and more time doing what you WANT to do. I have always paid attention to my productivity, but I became completely obsessed with it after experiencing burnout and realizing that true productivity is about MORE than just getting lots done.”

– Elena Hartung, Lifestyle Design and Mindset Coach

“Productivity for me means regularly working on the right things at the right time. Sometimes we need to do that with a little help from apps and other tech tools. And coffee.”

– Deb Lee, Digital Productivity Consultant

2 What time management techniques do you use to get more done in less time?

“Time blocking – especially using what I call focus blocks – is my go-to practice. It mitigates the efficiency drain from task-switching at the same time that it allows me to get real about what I can and can’t accomplish. More here.”

– Charlie Gilkey, author of Start Finishing

“Plan your day ahead based on outcomes(not to-do list). Brainstorm ways to meet outcomes, select 80/20. Be strategic in the placement of your calendar!! Plan around energy levels, leave time open for breaks, the unexpected. Always ask, How can I leverage this task?”

– Kirstin O’Donovan, Productivity Coach for Entrepreneurs

“My philosophy has always been to keep things simple. The more complicated it gets, the less likely I am to manage my workload effectively. So I’m a big fan of planning each day, and categorizing things as either critical, important, urgent, or neutral. That way I can plan more effectively for what lies ahead, and when the inevitable disruptions occur, I feel like I have an easier time keeping priorities straight.”

– Kevin Ciccotti, Top Project Management Influencer for 2019

3 How do you stay focused in a distracted world? Any tips to encourage deep work amongst your team or those you coach?

“Stop reading the news. People think it’s their duty to “be informed.” Rupert Murdoch agrees. You do not need to know everything going on every moment of every day everywhere. Set aside time each Sunday to catch up on the week’s one or two important stories. Once you understand how the attention economy works, and how we’re psychologically attracted to negativity, you start to see “The Matrix” that is the 24-hour news cycle.”

– David Kadavy, author of of Mind Management, Not Time Management, The Heart to Start and Design for Hackers.

“Deep work is best achieved when the brain gets into a state of flow. The more clear and calm your workspace, the fewer distractions, and the faster you can achieve flow.”

– Tracy Paye, Professional Organizer CPO

“Assess/adjust your relationship with the internet at large. Use it as a tool for you and your business rather than the source for entertainment and distraction it has the capacity to be.

Online: use browser extensions to block or limit time on certain sites (at least for work hours), work on airplane mode, adjust notification settings, remove apps from your phone and only check in at/for certain times a day.

Check in with yourself first thing to set your intention for your day/work before the noise hits. Write your list of 1-2 mission critical tasks for your day. Schedule in distractions like social media. And take regular breaks!”

– Melissa Steginus, Productivity and Wellness Specialist

4 How do you ensure that you’re focusing on high-priority tasks?

“For managing to-do lists, these are my top 5 tips. 1. Be clear on the purpose of your tasks. 2. Establish processes, procedures and practices. 3. Delegate and outsource where necessary. 4. Marry related tasks. 5. Use task management tools.”

– Jesmine Onyeukwu, Organizing and Productivity Consultant

“Don’t forget: Prioritization in itself is a task. Regularly set aside energy to think about your priorities. Clear priorities will prevent you from reacting emotionally to new opportunities in the moment. Make prioritization a priority. Use rules to carry out priorities. For example, I currently don’t have meetings on Mondays or Tuesdays. That helps me prioritize writing. Rules can change as priorities change. When my new book comes out, I’ll be happy to be on podcasts on Mondays or Tuesdays.

David Kadavy

Don’t live by your todo list. An elite athlete would never expect to roll out of bed & perform at their peak. So why treat your todo list as if anything is possible at any moment? This is why I organize my tasks not by project, but by mental state.”

– David Kadavy, author of of Mind Management, Not Time Management, The Heart to Start and Design for Hackers.

“Making time for reflection at the end of every day helps build the next day’s priority list. I like to write a fresh to do list each day, building off yesterday’s thoughts on “what is the most important thing I can do to move toward my goals right now?”

– Sarah Park, President at MeetEdgar

5 How do you ensure that all your meetings are productive work sessions?

“I say no to most of them and encourage a lot of asynchronous communication. If I do have a meeting: There is a clear agenda with expectations, only necessary people are invited, and decisions and action items are sent following the meeting.”

– Marissa Goldberg, Founder of RemoteWorkPrep

Charlie Gilkey

“Limit the number of people at the meeting. After about about 5 people in the meeting, it switches from focused work, problem-solving, and planning to updates and discussion. For each person at the meeting, consider why they *don’t* need to be there. Always have a designated meeting facilitator that drives the meeting. This need not be the manager and avoid having subject matter experts run the meeting. Finally, leave 5-10 minutes at the end for collecting action items and parking lot item owners.”

– Charlie Gilkey, author of Start Finishing

Deb Lee

“Shorten meetings when possible, always have an agenda, and an action items list that includes who will do what and when. Today’s host ( can help with the agenda + action items.”

– Deb Lee, Digital Productivity Consultant

6 What can others do on a regular basis to build the habit of productivity?

Stacey Harmon

“Centralize, centralize, centralize. Minimize the # of in boxes you have to as few as possible. Don’t fragment your ideas and things you want to remember across your email, your note-taking app, your camera roll, you FB messenger, etc.

“Process” (review) new inputs (things you keep for whatever reason) DAILY. Get in the habit of allocating up to 30 minutes a day for this. Processing is essential to understanding the landscape of what’s on your plate. Make time for it. It’s transformative.”

– Stacey Harmon, Digital Productivity and Organization Consultant

Melissa Steginus

One of my favourite James Clear quotes is ‘You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.’ Before setting a goal or installing a new productivity app, cultivate the habit of asking yourself questions…

q’s to ask yourself: Does this matter to me? Why or why not? What do I want my workday/lifestyle to look like? What are my core values? How does X align with this? What impact will this make on my business? Did today matter?”

– Melissa Steginus, Productivity and Wellness Specialist

“Write the steps of simple things you do every day. You’ll see steps you can remove or make more efficient. When you follow the steps, you program them into your mind. Here’s some steps I wrote down for my morning routine. Try for this level of detail…”

– David Kadavy, author of of Mind Management, Not Time Management, The Heart to Start and Design for Hackers.

7 What are your favorite or go-to productivity hacks that you recommend to everyone you talk to? 

Sarah Park

“My work journal! Keeping regular notes about progress on goals reminds you that you’re working toward something bigger, even on bad days.

Also, sticking to work hours! Keeping your active work time strictly confined forces you to schedule your week and avoid distractions, so you can rest and allow your mind to wander the rest of the time. No great shower ideas if you never stop to take a shower..”

– Sarah Park, President at MeetEdgar

Deb Lee

“Perhaps not a hack but *very* helpful: Exercise, take regular breaks, and eat away from your desk. Each of these things helps you to reset so you can focus when you get back to work. I also suggest working on a task/project for 10 minutes when motivation is super low. Set a timer and go. When the timer goes off, you can stop. Most times, though, you put in more than 10 min.”

– Deb Lee, Digital Productivity Consultant

Jesmine Onyeukwu

“Productivity is 90% about the PSYCHOLOGY and 10% about the TECHNOLOGY. My number 1 hack will be is understanding the beliefs and behaviours that boost productivity. Without the right mental constructs and daily attitudes, staying productive gets very hard.”

– Jesmine Onyeukwu, Organizing and Productivity Consultant

We hope that these expert tips help you and your team feel productive and motivated at work!

If you’d like to participate in live Q&As like this one in the future, make sure to RSVP for our next #ManagerChats!

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