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Time is the most precious asset a person comes across in their life, you can't buy time back, at least not until someone finalizes the flux capacitor. So I did my own study of human efficacy, and then lastly, I asked some very successful people how they get a lot done. There are different types of productivity I discovered: the kind for when you need to be creative, when you need to get done 'busy work', short and long term productivity; oh yeah, and when you need particular work to be perfect.


Sleep and naps

I am a proponent of organizations allowing their employees and volunteers alike to take quick cat naps; or even just time spent away from others, with your eyes shut recharging, which has similar benefits to actually falling asleep. Masahble has a great article and infographic on the different types of naps.

Zap stress

I doubt I have to sell you on the notion that when you are stressed out, your work suffers. A bit of a catch-22 at big big list of stress reduction tips by brad hinestimes, it might be that your work is causing you stress, which is why it helps to tackle it at either end. I made an infographic on my personal tips on zapping stress shown right, click to enlarge.

Exercise or even just work standing up

There is a new way to take care of mid-day slump, and it ain't a 3rd cup of coffee for your jittery self. It's simply to stand up. Standing up is good for your back, it's energizing as it gets blood flowing, and burns more calories. Otherwise quick walks are good too, like getting up every 20 minutes or so just to walk around for a minute. Try using a stand-up desk, and rotating between working sitting and standing for 20-60 minute intervals. Try to do the standing for two or three hours a day and the rest sitting if you can. I have switched to this method and swear by it.

Keeping blood sugar stable by getting your snack on

If you have ever had too big of a lunch and then the resulting 'Sugar coma', you probably know what a big productivity killer it can be, you don't get much done sleeping on your keyboard when you didn't intend to be, nor does a catnap get you out of this as you'll still feel sluggish as your body will literally be re-routing blood needed in your brain to digestion instead. Nutritionists say that the best energy levels come from stable blood sugar, and maybe even being slightly hungry throughout the day. It may be difficult to do on the face of it, but a basic lifestyle change like packing healthy snacks like fruits and nuts for work to eat ongoingly can help you keep stable blood sugar. Keeping stable blood sugar throughout the day has the major added bonus that your body never goes into "store fat mode" which is what it does when blood sugar dips. Food for thought (sorry I had to), a study by Baumeister has also shown that willpower in the brain is increased when people have higher, rather than lower levels of glucose. So if you are lacking in motivation to get something started, apparently a bit of a sugar intake may help for a change.

Isolation when needed

For all the praise about the productivity of working with teams, it's often underestimated how much we get done—especially creatively speaking—when we are alone. The biggest productivity killer for individuals and organizations alike, is distractions and frivolous interaction like redundant discussions of things, and meetings that go sideways. I am currently reading and loving Quiet by Susan Cain, which beautifully goes in detail about the benefits of more introverted behavior as a productivity-plus both in work and life. She contends that if you have smart and talented employees who are introverted and averse to meetings and that sort of thing, consider leaving them alone, and watch what they accomplish!


There are two schools of thought to listening to music you enjoy helping productivity, one is simply that it does, because it puts you in a good mood and helps you obtain flow, the other is that it doesn't as it's a form of multitasking and thus attention splitting. So I'd suggest it comes down to how loud the music is, and how hard the work is. I think for boring 'busy' work, and not real intense problem solving, music is perfect for that. In an office environment, if you use headphones, it has the added benefit of both blocking out noise, and others from bothering you-that isolation help I spoke of.


dimwitz by brad hinesYup, go ahead and have a drink if you need to be more productive in terms of creativity. Drinking can be a way to obtain what is known as a 'theta brain' state, which simply means that our brain activity has slowed down to the slower than normal theta waves. Although this is not a good means of being productive for "busy work" or otherwise non-creative demanding tasks. For more on the Theta brain state and creativity please see my article Tapping into creativity with the Theta brain cycle, 12-3-12.


Playing is a great way to break up the day, reset your mind, and spur creativity. It would be bordering on ironic to offer guidelines on how to play-just do what you feel like doing. If you are already prone to things like Facebook breaks, chatting on the phone or whatever you do to blow off steam, now you can keep doing them guilt-free, as long as it's for short spurts, maybe 10 minutes every 45-60 minutes or so. Play is also especially good for aiding creativity, same as with alcohol.


Although I've got no research to back it up, I think there is something to be said for your appearance, and the neuro-reflexive aspect, that is, the physiology of how productive you feel based on your dress. Maybe not for all, but as a freelancer with the luxury of working in my pajamas, I have noticed how much more I get down if I dress nicely and professionally. I don't feel I need a tie exactly, but pressed pants and a dress shirt seems to get me more down than jeans and a tee.

And finally, tips from some very productive people:


Stephanie Ciccarelli , Co-Founder,

I sing every morning, and whenever in a creative slump

Many of the people I spoke with had something to say about using routines to help them out, and as well, doing something they were passionate about to get them going. Stephanie Ciccarelli of tells me, "Each morning I sing. Singing to start my day sparks something inside of me to help me go about doing my best." When I asked her if it was about the routine aspect of her daily sing, she explained that it's more than that, "Singing can be useful anytime I am in a creative slump. It's like they way some people might surf various websites for fun to break up the doldrums, I get myself going again by singing."

In talking, Ciccarelli and I agreed that any activity you are intrinsically motivated to do-drawing, a phone call with your family, etc.- can recharge your midday slump-but even if you aren't one for singing, give it a shot any way because of the added physical benefits. "Singing also gets you standing up, the blood flowing, and taking in oxygen" says Ciccarelli. This makes sense, as those are all key components of optimum brain function.

Dan Schwabel  

Dan Schawbel , Founder of Millennial Branding and author of the upcoming Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success

Select projects mindfully

"Don't be afraid to turn down projects that don't take advantage of your talents, you don't have time for and aren't aligned with your goals." Schwabel tells me. I like this a lot as a long term productivity strategy, as I believe most people—think almost anyone at a food buffet—have a hard time seeing the bigger picture in the face of multiple great options. You have to understand sometimes you can't partake in every opportunity, as in the larger picture view it is penny wise pound foolish as they individual projects will suffer from your lack of focus taking on too much."


Grant Vollmer,

Computer Dictation

"Use your Mac Speech function (or download a similar function for PC) and set the "start speaking" or "speak" command to a key board short cut you can remember i.e. SHIFT + S + A. Now, every time you highlight text your computer will read this text whether or not you are in that window.

Now for high productivity e-mail: open an e-mail, highlight the entire e-mail and press your keyboard short cut, while your computer is reading the e-mail, type your reply. By the time your computer has finished reading the e-mail, you'll already have a completed response."

Tory Patrick  

Tory Patrick, Walker Sands

Touch things once

There is a terrible redundancy in approaching things multiple times, for the sheer factor alone that you have to get back into a 'groove' to focus on that item all over again. The best way to approach things that are related is all at once. In a similar fashion, Tory Patrick of Walker Sands tells me:

"I worked as a manager at a retail store for 1 year, and I've applied one tip specifically in my work in PR - touch things once. In retail, that means if you pick up a pair of jeans, fold them and put them back. In PR, that means if I read an e-mail, I either take action or file it. Don't leave things lingering for "later" - by the time later rolls around, there will be 14 more things on that list, and you'll fall further and further behind. Deal with every now. Touch things once."

Katie shea  

Katie Shea, OrderGroove

Check e-mails at set times

Katie says:

"Commit to checking e-mails only at 9AM, 11AM, 2PM, 4PM, and 6PM, and give yourself up to 30 minutes per "slot" to respond to messages.

Why? Although e-mail communication is a critical part of work productivity, constantly checking your inbox can actually be more distracting than helpful. For important projects, going inbox-free for a few hours will allow you to truly be present and focused on the current task at hand."

simone porter violinist  

Simone Porter, violinist

Perfect practice begets perfection

"When I practice, I attempt to accomplish my goals as efficiently as possible...The productivity of my practicing vastly improved when I realized how I could use repetition to my advantage in the context of starting a new piece. I think that the first few weeks of study on a work of music are perhaps the most essential. In that small space of time, I have to familiarize myself with the layout of the movement, take note of the danger zones, come to grips with the character, and build muscle memory. In the beginning, I gather all my self control, and play the piece so slowly that every passage is as near perfect as I can muster! I've described the relentless slow practice and constant nit-picking as torturous in the past, but the pay off makes the painstaking effort worthwhile. I continue to employ the technique of "playing perfectly" as I study the piece further, but I also increase the tempo of the piece daily--always adhering to the aforementioned principle of "perfect practice"--finally reaching performance level, and focusing on artistry. Ultimately, productivity is found through patience, forethought, and trust in oneself!"



For more on productivity advice, I love and highly recommend the books 'Quiet, the power of introverts' and 'Personal Productivity Secrets'

how to be a productivity ninja   productivity book  

Brad Hines photo picture image

About the writer: Brad Hines is the president of, and the founder of He is a digital marketing and social media strategist. A writer as well, he typically writes about internet, business, and science trends. He is most productive when working on a new idea, and the least when the weather gets nice. He can be followed on Twitter:



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