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Productivity: The Secret to Success

Image of Michelle Farnsworth
Michelle Farnsworth

Everyone strives to be productive on a daily basis, at least to some degree, yet very few are actually doing it to their own satisfaction (or the satisfaction of others, such as their supervisors or spouse).

Just hearing the word may cause anxiety, frustration, guilt, or the desire to simply avoid the topic completely in order to prevent yourself from feeling any such emotions.

But why does productivity take on such a negative connotation? The definition seems harmless enough – yielding results, benefits, or profits; or having the quality or power of producing, especially in abundance. We all want to accomplish something, so why is it so darn tough?

The truth of the matter is, being productive has become more challenging as time and technology have marched forward. We are busier than ever before, with more to do and less time to do it in. We are more disorganized because we can receive information at all hours of the day, from multiple sources, and are then required to keep track of it all using a variety of methods. We are constantly communicating with others via text, email, social media, whatever – and we are expected to recall all of this information as well. Talk about being overwhelmed before you ever even begin to tackle the tasks you need to accomplish.

While the depth and degree of what it means to be productive changes from person to person, the ability to be productive, no matter the level, depends largely on your capability to be organized. That’s right, organization is the secret to your productivity success. It is how effectively you sort, filter, and process all types of information, or in other words, how efficient and orderly you approach your daily, weekly, or monthly tasks.

If you excel at organization, you are able to find what you want, when you want it, in less than 30 seconds. You have systems set in place, rather than piles of papers, files, and chaos. Being organized will give you more control over your time and life, and thus propel you into the perfect atmosphere to be a more productive you.

By organizing the following three crucial components of your life – time, information, and people – you will be able to greatly improve your personal and professional productivity level.


The great entrepreneur and businessman Walt Disney once said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Time, when managed wisely, can be your most valuable asset. Someone who has mastered the art of productivity knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing at each moment of the day.

Now, people often equate being more productive with working extra hours or working harder, because that is often the most visible form of productivity. However, research from Stanford reveals that we actually pass into negative productivity somewhere between 30 and 60 hours per week (the exact amount of time depends on a variety of factors such as genetic makeup, diet, sleep, and exercise). Working ourselves to the bone is actually counterproductive! The following are suggestions on how to organize and manage your time in order to set you up for productivity success:

Find your “golden hour”

Your “golden hour” is simply the time of day when you are at your prime. You are more alert and focused during this time, ready and eager to mark things off of your list. We all have roughly 2 to 4 hours of high-level energy per day, our peak energy. Beyond this threshold we are incapable of high-level creative work, but can still complete more basic duties such as managerial and administrative tasks. Find your golden hour, and once you do, protect it. Make sure you block out this time for you to do your best, uninterrupted work or the highest priority task for the day.

Knock out the worst thing first

We all have that task we just do not want to do, no matter how long it sits on our list or how many incentives we have tried to entice ourselves with. And so, day after day, it remains there waiting to be marked off. My suggestion is to do it first no matter how much you are dreading the task. Knock it quickly off of your list so you can move on to other things without any guilt and set a more positive and victorious, tone for the remainder of your day.

Schedule times to accomplish items

It is not enough to just have one big long to-do list. To-do by when? Before you retire? Before lunch? Before the next quarterly meeting? Take each item on your list and give it a space on your calendar, which is also known as time-blocking. Scheduling out a time to accomplish each item on your list will greatly assist you in finishing the task because you will have a firm time of when to work on it in your mind and on your schedule. And be realistic about how many things you can effectively schedule into your day without feeling rushed and frustrated.

The two-minute rule

David Allen, a time management consultant and best-selling author, came up with the two-minute rule, which states, “If a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then.” Putting it off adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental whenever you get around to starting it. On the flip side, if it is not absolutely necessary, do not add it to your to-do list at all. Take a less-is-more attitude towards your to-do list by only focusing on accomplishing things that really matter.


Productive people are able to locate what they want, when they want it, in less than 30 seconds. They effectively organize their incoming information as well as any information they may need to recall in the future.

Use one scheduling system

It is a huge endeavor to keep one’s calendar clear and up-to-date. Having one system in place that contains all parts of your life – business, personal, and family –  in an easy-to-use tool is a big key to success. Too many planners or calendars may lead to confusion. Without being able to access all of your scheduling in one fell swoop, you will inevitably face conflicts you weren’t even aware of.

Maintain several lists

Maintain several different lists for recall information. This information is not necessarily something you need to take action on, but something you want to remember. It is something you want to organize and store in an organized manner so you can forget it – yet access it quickly when needed.

Develop a routine

You have undoubtedly developed a few productivity-ruining habits over the years – such as compulsive email checking. Manage your distracting ways by developing a system. So, if you obsessively check emails, schedule a morning, afternoon, and evening time slot to manage your inbox. Outside of those designated times, stay away from it. Otherwise, you will get distracted from what you are trying to accomplish in that moment.


Those who are very productive are able to pull up a history on what they said, to whom, and when, without having to completely rely on their own (sometimes faulty) memory. This is especially important from a professional standpoint. Being able to effectively organize the contact you have had with people in your life, personally and professionally, will greatly aide in your productivity.

Create a system

Organizing your contact information and conversation history is critical when dealing with many different people on a daily basis. You must implement a system for tracking names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other relevant information about your clients, prospects, colleagues, contacts, friends, and even family. Contact management software such as Gmail, Outlook or the CRM of your choice will allow you to quickly store, search, and report on various contacts or groups on a professional level.

When a contact calls, are you able to quickly pull up any related information you have on that person or business (such as emails, meeting requests, conversations, etc.)? If this information is not readily available to you, you will always be searching for sent records or frantically looking for a scrap of paper where you placed your notes from your previous conversation. Have a system for keeping contacts and any relevant information attached to them.

Delegation is your best friend

If someone else can do a task, why not let them? The task will still get done but you will be free to work on more important projects. Be selective about how you spend your energy and do not waste it on things others can do for you.

Improve email etiquette

Email is a productivity killer and often a distraction from what actually matters, as I mentioned before. Don’t fall into this productivity trap! For example, copying multiple people on a single email in order to quickly knock out a task, or because you are feeling lazy, often distracts everyone else by creating noise against the tasks they are trying to complete. A general rule of thumb is if this email chain goes beyond two replies, it is time to pick up the phone and talk with someone.

Identify your time thieves

Turn off TV, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any other items that may be secretly stealing valuable productivity time from you. Even if you just spend a minute here or a minute there, those minutes add up to a large thief of your time. You’ll instantly gain several hours back for those projects you didn’t seem to have time for before. Your social life can wait.


Along with organizing your time, information, and people, here are a few additional miscellaneous components to assist you in being more productive:

Get it right the first time

People today are often distracted or trying to be the best multi-tasker around, and so they make mistakes. Focus, really focus, on one task at a time so that valuable time is not wasted having to go back and fix any silly mistakes. Studies have shown that changing tasks more than 10 times a day drops your IQ an average of 10 points. Focus on one task at a time and get it flawless the first time around.

Stop being lazy

Whether you want to admit it or not, the number one contributor to lost productivity is sheer laziness. Several supposed time-saving methods – such as meetings and compulsive email checking –  are actually ways to get out of doing real work yet still trying to have yourself  feel productive. Place your focus on doing the things that matter most as effectively and efficiently as you are able.

Get fit

Getting into your absolute best physical condition is a conduit for explosive energy, both mentally and physically. It will help renew your focus and multiply your creativity. Also, staying well hydrated will help you keep your energy moving. Less energy = less productivity.

Keep clean

Mess creates stress. Clean out your clutter and get more done, yet another way organization aides in productivity.

Reward yourself

You are working hard, why not acknowledge it? Rewards not only help compensate you for your hard work, but also motivate you to keep moving forward. You will be more driven to complete tasks if there is an enticing incentive on the other end.

Motivator Paul Meyer once said, “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” By organizing your time, information, and people, you will be able to gain a greater sense of control in your daily duties through a greater commitment, planning, and focus. Though it takes a great deal of determination, thought, and organization, and though it is certainly not always easy, the rewards of improving your productivity on both a personal and professional level are worth the trouble. By following these straightforward components you will be able to get the most out of your day!

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