Category Archives: Personal Productivity

50 Great Productivity Tips from Famous People

The blog at onlineMBA has an interesting post called 50 terrific productivity secrets of the rich and famous. It’s a lot of fun, and some good tips too. You can see the highlights here in the graphic. But click the post … it’s hard to stop reading.

They aren’t all straight lines to productivity, like Bill Gates’ “go paperless,” Warren Buffet’s “say no,” or Winston Churchill’s “take a break away from your desk.” They also include some really good life tips like Richard Branson’s “don’t forget to work out,” Arianna Huffington’s “get enough sleep,” or –one of my favorites — Mark Cuban’s “avoid meetings.”


7 Steps to Practical Business Stories

Remember, stories aren’t just stories. They’re truth and promise and relationships established. They’re vital to business. There’s more truth in stories than in all the statistics ever published. 

Geoffrey James posted How to Tell a Great Story on last month, quoting Mike Bosworth of Solution Selling, and Ben Zoldan, one of his top trainers. So this is how to tell a memorable business anecdote:

1. “Decide on the takeaway first.” There’s a business goal. Yes you want to make conversation, but also make a business point. If you’re selling shoes, tell a story about a shoe disaster, or a shoe rescue. 

2. “Pick the ending ahead of time.” Get the ending that supports the takeaway. 

3. “Begin with who, where, when, and a hint of direction.” He adds:

Every great story–and indeed, every great movie, novel, or TV show–starts with a person (who is going to do something), a place (where things are going to happen), a time (so people can relate “then” to “now”), and just a hint of direction, indicating where the anecdote is headed.

4. “Intensify human interest by adding context.” Details, done right, make it a story. Try to put your people there, caring about the people and the situation. 

5. “Describe the goals and the obstacles.” They call that plot. What was the problem, and how was it solved. 

6. “Describe the decision that made achievement possible.” 

It’s important not to confuse the decision (or turning point) with the ending of the story.  The turning point is not “what happened”–it’s the decision that caused what happened to happen.

7. “Provide the ending and highlight the takeaway.” Don’t assume your listener figured it out. Make sure to say it, out loud. Tell everybody what happened and why it’s important. 

Nice post, good recommendations; thanks Geoff, Mike, and Ben. 

7 Bad Habits That Aren’t, plus a Great Title That Is

Here’s a great title: The 7 Bad Habits of Insanely Productive People. That was on copyblogger last week, posted by Sonia Simone, one of the nicest plays on contradiction and irony I’ve seen a while. There’s some real truth here, but hidden in paradox, and a lot of humor too. Who wants bad habits? You have to read the post to see. 

For example, in her intro, musing on productivity advice …

And the truth is, I’ve gotten a lot out of productivity advice. If it weren’t for David Allen and Tony Schwartz, my life would consist of eating cupcakes and checking Netflix to see if there’s a new Phineas & Ferb out.

And all those bad habits? How does this sound:

  1. Being thin-skinned
  2. Flakiness
  3. Selfishness
  4. Greed
  5. Distractibility
  6. Self doubt
  7. Arrogance

Not so attractive at all, right? Except that Simone uses each of these to get your attention. Then she tears them back down.

For example, thin-skinned … 

Most of the successful people I know are sensitive and perceptive. And yes, when they get criticized, they feel like shit. Do they let trolls and whiners stop them from doing something great? No. But it’s not because they don’t feel the insults … it’s because their passion for what they do is stronger than the discomfort.

And on flakiness …

The truth is, if you’re building something epic, you’re going to be juggling a lot of pieces. They don’t always go together neatly. Sometimes they don’t go together at all. If you’re stretching yourself, you’ll drop the ball sometimes. Try to figure out the circumstances in which you should never let yourself drop the ball, Make sure the “A” tasks get done.
Do your best, and say sorry when you screw up. But don’t stop just because things get messy. 

So you see how that goes, right? Selfishness has to do with drawing lines and setting priorities, greed is motivating, and distractibility is creativity. I like this quote:

Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
~Albert Einstein

And this one too, under self doubt:

Jim Collins showed nicely in his book Great by Choice that one marker of a business leader who succeeds over time is what Collins calls “productive paranoia.”

And finally, concluding my post on Sonia’s post, a final thought from bad habit #7, arrogance:

for your project to become truly epic — to help an epic number of people — you’re going to have to get out there and talk it up. Which will make some people uncomfortable. 

That’s just a quick summary. Read the post. 

Oh No! Microbreaks Are Productive, Real Breaks Aren’t

What, no coffee break? This feels vaguely like the idea that so-called grazing all day is better than three good meals and nothing else. Clearly, I’m way too old-fashioned. I just discovered that traditional coffee breaks do nothing for productivity. 

And I do mean traditional. The idea brought me quickly to this old number, from a musical that debuted in 1961, which was made into a 1967 movie, and is now a hit revival. This is a piece of history. It’s from decades before Starbucks. What happened to coffee at your desk? Before we discuss micro breaks let’s consider what we’re losing: (The YouTube number here is from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Or you can click this link to see it on YouTube.)

The microbreak idea is from Boost Your Productivity with Microbreaks, and HBR Ideacast from earlier this month. Portland State professor Charlotte Fritz studied the problem of productivity and breaks. It turns out that what works for me — the quick walk, the change of pace, a non-business phone call — doesn’t actually work that well. 

Microbreaks are a term that me and some colleagues came up with to describe all the little things that we do during somewhat unofficial breaks during the workday. … going to the water cooler, chatting with a colleague, checking in on your family … we were looking at these microbreaks, thinking about them in terms of recovery at work. So, the little things that keep us energized throughout the workday that aren’t bigger breaks. 

And what they discovered was not what you’d expect (or at least not what I expected):

….the work-related tasks, and specifically tasks that were associated either with learning something new, realizing the meaningful pieces about your work, or connecting positively with others at work, those were the ones that seemed to be related to feeling energized at work.

Not that anybody actually takes old-fashioned coffee breaks. Do you? Don’t we all grab the coffee (or tea, or Pepsi (yech)) quickly and sip it in the morning while we deal with email, blog posts, Twitter, and the business morning routine? So I think Starbucks is safe. 

And the study doesn’t say productivity depends on working all day every day without stopping. There is this comforting note: 

this was the first study that ever looked at it that way, so we need to be a little bit cautious with our interpretation. But with regard to those microbreaks, yes, going for a walk and so on, going outside for fresh air, that wasn’t related to energy at work. However, I would say, maybe it’s because we were just specifically looking at shorter breaks, microbreaks. However, during a lunch break, I would still encourage people to go for a walk, go outside, and get some sun in.

And this one too:

we do know by now that vacations are good for us. So, definitely again for well-being and health, helps reduce burnout and so on. We do find that they’re good for us. But we also find that the effects fade out relatively quickly. So, within two or three weeks after we come back from vacation, all the positive effects have pretty much faded out. What that suggests is that, rather than taking one long break per year, it would be good to take vacations, maybe a week, like five to six days long or something, or even maybe just long weekends several times per year to recharge.

Amen to that. 

I Love These 5 Use-Everywhere Apps

What makes good software? For me, the use-everywhere factor is a big deal. I work with a desktop using Windows 7, a Mac at home and a Macbook for travel, mobile phone and a tablet computer. The more my gadgets spread, the more I appreciate the apps that let me get to my workspace wherever I am. Kindle Reader

  1. Dropbox. Now the files I’m working on, like drafts of documents and slide shows, show up as part of the file system I browse on my Windows desktop and all of my Macintoshes, and are available to me on my iPad and — not that I want to use them on my mobile phone — on my phone too. Its system software manages to work into natural file browsing too, as least on a desktop in Windows or Mac. Nowadays I routinely save documents to DropBox so I can pick them up wherever I left off, from wherever I am. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t pay for my Dropbox, because they are leaving money on the table. I would pay if they made me. As it is, if I don’t use a whole computer’s worth of storage space, it’s free.
  2. Evernote. Every bit as powerful and as useful as Dropbox, which is saying a lot. I can input a note using a keyboard, a microphone, or a screen shot or website. I can get back to my notes from any computer, laptop, iPad or iPhone I use, and I think I could get it on Android as well, probably on Windows Mobile too. Type a note on the computer you’re at, and access it later when you need it. Fabulous software, and this too is free. And I’d pay for it if they made me.
  3. Kindle reader. I have the Kindle software on every device I have. I’m never caught waiting for something without immediate access to the latest book I’m reading, unless I don’t have my phone. Kindle automatically synchronizes to the last page I was reading on whatever device I was reading last. And it’s on phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops. And it’s free … although obviously I have to buy the books. Lately Kindle has also become a document manager too, so that — to cite one example — when I’m reading business plans I can load them to my Kindle and get the documents anywhere I am.
  4. Roboform. I complained three years ago when I switched to Mac at home and couldn’t get Roboform on my Macs. Now I can, and also on my iPad, and on every phone too. Roboform helps me keep track of logins and passwords, and — God help me — I sure hope it’s safe. Roboform is not free, but some of their browser add-ons are, and it’s worth a lot more than the equivalent of a good lunch, which is what they charge. I think I’m glad they charge me, and I hope they invest that in keeping up with security. They do have updates as often as any software I deal with.
  5. Things. Things, by Cultured Code, gets honorable mention here, for the new beta version that synchronizes my to-do list on iCloud so that I can access it, work with it, and massage it from my phone, iPad, laptop, or desktop Mac. That’s not the production version yet, and it doesn’t extend to Windows. But I do like it a whole lot. Things costs $49.95 and it’s worth every penny to me.

Disclosure: Last week I posted here that I didn’t post this one because there’s so much sleazy spammy tactics going on, paying bloggers for plugs, that I worried you’d think I’m doing that. I’m not. Nobody’s paying me a penny to recommend these five apps, and the ones that aren’t free — Roboform and Things — I purchased.

This is just great software. And I felt like sharing.

(Image: a screen shot from the Amazon Kindle download page.)

Double Your Productivity with Real Focus

According to the emails and comments, Tony Schwartz’ post The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time on the Harvard Business Review is getting a lot of attention this morning. He says: vision

Tell the truth: Do you answer email during conference calls (and sometimes even during calls with one other person)? Do you bring your laptop to meetings and then pretend you’re taking notes while you surf the net? Do you eat lunch at your desk? Do you make calls while you’re driving, and even send the occasional text, even though you know you shouldn’t?

I recognize that behavior. That’s often me. Tony follows with:

The biggest cost — assuming you don’t crash — is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.

That reminds me of the “good-ol’ days” in the 1980s when I was writing books and doing consulting. I would lock myself in with a project. I’d focus and get two and sometimes three hours straight concentrated productivity on one thing. All I had to do, back then, was take the damn phone wire out of the phone. I’ve always been a procrastinator, but this concentrated focus was my remedy. Wait until deadline, then dive in. Full force.

Today it takes putting the computer to sleep too.And — much  it also takes a lot of discipline. I confess. I don’t think I’ve managed to focus that well for years.


Do We Have Any Idea What Productivity Really Is?

Have you thought about productivity lately? And how anybody measures productivity?

I think it’s a concept that grew up with the industrial revolution. Productivity was measured as factory work, in units produced per hour. Visualize finished cars flowing out of the assembly line. factory

What’s productivity today and how can we measure it? The modern work style is so diffuse, now. Who knows what makes us productive. Emails, perhaps, or phone calls or tweets or blog posts? Presentations? What about lines of code, by the developers.

I posted tell the truth: where are you most productive last week, questioning how people answer to surveys on where they are most productive. last week on whether people are more productive at home, office, or coworking sites.

Later I saw Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By on the Harvard Business Review, by Tony Schwartz. These myths are also about productivity. I really enjoyed his myth number two:

Myth #2: A little bit of anxiety helps us perform better.

Which he tears apart elegantly with this:

The more anxious we feel, the less clearly and imaginatively we think, and the more reactive and impulsive we become.

But my favorite of Tony Schwartz’ myths is his number four:

Myth #4: The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.

No single myth is more destructive to employers and employees than this one. The reason is that we’re not designed to operate like computers — at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time.

Instead, human beings are designed to pulse intermittently between spending and renewing energy. Great performers — and enlightened leaders — recognize that it’s not the number of hours people work that determines the value they create, but rather the energy they bring to whatever hours they work.

As technology changes the world, physical presence is no longer the same as work presence. I can be sitting at a desk in my office and miles away, and that’s much, much easier now than it used to be. So how do we measure productivity?

I think we have to look for results. Numerical results. Measure productivity by outcome, not input. But I’m not sure. What do you think?


1 Great Tip for Better Story Power for Business

Here’s a great tip for anybody presenting anything to an audience:

Skip the boring preamble. Many times we feel like we have to do a lot of prefacing, but four minutes goes by quickly. If you spend two minutes on background, you’ve lost an opportunity to grab attention. Far better to leave the identifying bits until the second paragraph, or to the overhead PowerPoint image, or to the person charged with giving the introductions.

Start in the middle. Start at the most interesting point. Choose powerful first words, with immediate interest. Grab your audience quickly. The worst ways to start a presentation (or any story) is “My name is ___ and I’d like to talk to you about…”

That’s from JD Schramm, Stanford business school communications lecturer, in How to Tell Your Story for Impact. The session is also posted on YouTube, Make sure you get to about 27 minutes in, where he starts talking about 7 habits of concise storytelling. That portion, the 7 habits, takes less than 20 minutes.

Yes, there are seven. I put one into this post but I recommend you go through all seven.

Tell the Truth: Where Are You Most Productive?

Interesting post today where Steve King at Small Business Labs asks Is The Traditional Office the Least Productive Place to Work? He cites professional research and uses clear logic. But I still think there’s a catch.


He starts with surveys indicating that people who work in coworking locations say they are more productive than working at home.

Which he follows with surveys indicating that people report working at home is more productive than working in company offices.

Which he takes to this conclusion:

This suggests that the least productive place to work is a traditional office.

But wait — coworking is working in an office with people who aren’t part of the same team, right? So working in an office is more productive than working at home, but only if those around you aren’t part of the same team? What’s wrong with this picture? I know and like Steve King and he’s a professional researcher, so it’s not a problem with the research. But could it be …

  1. People often answer surveys with the answer that makes them feel best about themselves and the choices they’ve made, so the home office worker is compelled to claim productivity and the coworking office worker is too, but the traditional office worker isn’t? That might explain the research.
  2. And for that matter, how well does any of us really evaluate our own productivity in different situations? I’m going to claim to be most productive at the place I most like to be.
  3. And productivity by location is an entirely new concept over the last few years. Even in the office, I’m located where my attention is pointing. I might look like I’m in the office in a traditional office mode when I’m on Twitter or instant messenger with my mind entirely out of the office, chatting with friends. And if, in that moment, a survey taker asks me about it, I’m going to say I’m really productive right there.

What do you think?

Do You Understand the Power of Instant Rejection?

A friend referred me to Vinod Khosla’s Five-Second Rule at It’s about the slide decks we use for presenting, and its wisdom is a lot like what you get in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink or thousands of blog posts about the importance of headlines. Here’s the Vinod’s test for slide decks: presentation

he puts a slide on a screen, removes it after five seconds, and then asks the viewer to describe the slide. A dense slide fails the test—and fails to provide the basic function of any visual: to aid the presentation.

Post author Jerry Weissman explains how this addresses two of the most important elements of presentation graphics:

Less is More, a plea all too often sounded by helpless audiences to hapless presenters; and more important, the human perception factor. Whenever an image appears on any screen, the eyes of every member of every audience reflexively move to the screen to process the new image. The denser the image, the more processing the audiences need.

This is a good example of the underlying principle of instant rejection. It applies as well to emails, blog posts, and other content. It’s as simple as turning the page, switching the channel, or going on to the next email. As a communicator, or content provider, you get an instant to pitch your message before the attention moves on. If you don’t win the instant, you got rejected.