8 not-so-common productivity tips for getting the most out of every day

I’m a productivity fanatic.

Why?

Because I know the more I can produce in one day (leveraged or otherwise), the faster I’ll achieve my goals.

The world is moving fast…

And with the advent of mobile + social media, that speed is accelerating…

Which means your ability to be as productive as possible is your most important advantage in today’s world.

I’ve been working on my productivity for more than 15 years now, and I’ve tested a lot of different approaches to getting the most done from the precious time I have.

In this article, I’m not going to share the basic stuff like prioritization, to-do lists etc (ie the ‘common’ stuff)…

I’m going to share the most powerful productivity tips I’m using in my life right now to get the most out of my days, weeks, months and years.

Here goes…

1. Things

Things is a to-do list app.

And I love it.

Here’s why.

There’s a desktop app, an iPhone app, and an iPad app, and they all sync seamlessly via Things Cloud (which means one to-list list app to rule them all).

You can create projects, reschedule tasks, set recurring tasks, add tags, and add notes to any task.

And one of the biggest reasons I love things is because it allows you to include a hyperlink to a web page or file from wherever you are by clicking CTRL + OPTION + SPACE. This is an absolutely awesome feature because it allows me to empty my email inbox and add any emails that will take me longer than a minute to reply to Things (to sort later).

I put everything in Things so I don’t have to remember anything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

I trust in the system I’ve created to record ideas, as follows:

  1. Think of something
  2. Add it to Things
  3. Sort my Things ‘inbox’ every day (by adding tasks to the different projects I’ve setup)
  4. Prioritize my tasks daily

Someone once said ‘the right habits can set you free’ (or something similar to this), and having a process to track, manage and organize every single thought you have is one of the most liberating things you can do for your productivity.

Why?

Because it opens up your mind to be able to think about, and focus on, the bigger things in life.

2. Asana

They say that planning is one of the most powerful, yet most underutilized productivity tools.

Well, Asana is the best tool I’ve found for planning.

Here’s why…

Asana is an online project management tool that allows collaboration and discussions with team mates.

While I use Things to record all of my tasks, I use Asana to manage the various projects I’m working on.

I’ve been using Asana for about a month now. I started using it because I needed a better way to manage the sheer number of tasks, projects and milestones related to marketing Web Profits (the online marketing agency I co-founded and am Chief Innovation Officer).

Here’s how I use Asana:

  1. I create a project for each key area I’m focusing on (eg content, email marketing, social media, design, campaigns etc)
  2. I create a list of tasks for each key area
  3. I assign each task to either myself or a member of my team and set a deadline for that task (I add any notes related to that task in the notes section)
  4. I review all of the tasks in the Calendar view and ensure that there is a major focus for each week (eg launch a new campaign), and that all of the ongoing tasks are scheduled in as well – one of the best things I like about Asana is that I can drag and drop tasks in the calendar view to change the deadlines
  5. I review the week that was and the week ahead every Sunday to make sure the focus is in the right area
  6. I meet with the team to review the week that was and the week ahead, ensure everything is on track, resolve any bottlenecks, and make sure everyone knows what they should be focusing on

And something small (yet very satisfying) is that when a task is complete, I love the feeling of clicking the little tick icon to mark it as complete.

Asana is the place I add the bigger projects I’m working on… the projects that have multiple streams that need to be thought about simultaneously.

I start my day by looking at Asana first, and moving any tasks that are due today, or that I need to be working on this week, into Things.

My focus is always on getting my Asana ‘due’ tasks done first, as they are the tasks that are moving me closer to my bigger goal, while Things is more for keeping track of the smaller tasks.

If there are any longer projects I need to work on, I’ll be putting them into Asana.

Why?

Because there’s only a certain amount of time available every day, week and month, and my ability to plan my week and month ensures I focus my time on the most valuable thing.

3. Slack

Email is one of the biggest productivity killers of today’s world. It’s relentless.

So anything you can do to reduce the volume of emails coming into your email inbox will help your productivity.

When you work with a team, email is a very useful communication tool to stay across everything that’s happening every day.

The problem is, the bigger you grow, and the more tasks and projects you’re working on, the more emails go back and forth between the team.

The worst part is the CC and BCC of every email message, and then the ‘reply to all’ messages that end up clogging your inbox and making it difficult for you to know which emails are important to read and which are not.

That’s where Slack comes in.

We introduced Slack at Web Profits last year and it has reduced internal emails significantly.

We have a Slack ‘channel’ for each department, every multi-service client, specific projects, general chats, team communications, and even adhoc channels for simple things like parking.

There are public channels, that anyone can join… private channels, that are only accessible by those people who you invite… and direct messages between you and anyone else in the organisation.

You can upload files, scripts, and pretty much any type of file into Slack.

And it integrates with pretty much every web app that has an API.

Now you might be asking… ‘why not just use Skype?’.

We stopped using both Skype and email when we moved to Slack.

Here’s why we stopped using Skype:

  1. You can choose to join or leave public channels on Slack
  2. Slack stores all of the Channel history, so as new team members come on and off certain projects, they can see everything that happened
  3. If you reformat your computer you don’t lose everything on Slack – with Skype, all of your history is gone
  4. You can search history in Slack far better than you can on Skype

But don’t just start using Slack with all of the notifications turned on.

Make sure you customize the notifications of each channel you’re part of, so you don’t get the popup notifications every time a new message is posted (because that seriously hurts your productivity).

You should also use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ schedule to turn off notifications completely when you’re doing focused work.

4. Block time for focused work

Last year we ran a 2-week trial at Web Profits for blocking out 3 hours per day across our entire agency.

We did that because as a company grows it becomes harder to find the time to get the harder, focused work done… the work that takes a strong mind, serious focus, and no interuptions.

Why does this become hard?

Because everybody has different schedules, different priorities, and as a fast-growing company, there are always multiple, conflicting priorities.

What ends up happening is that all of the easy stuff gets done, but the bigger thinking stuff keeps getting pushed back… causing people to get stressed that they’re not getting enough done.

Well…

When we ran the trial last year, the success of it was so powerful that we’ve implemented it across the entire company.

‘Productivity time’, as we refer to it, is between 10am and 1pm daily, and it’s where email and Slack are turned off, there are no meetings (as much as possible), and there are no interruptions, so that people can focus on getting the bigger tasks done.

This is an example of blocking time aside for focused work.

I block time in my calendar for tasks I need to focus on for an hour or more… sometimes I block half a day or more to get the bigger tasks done.

It’s the only way to do the bigger tasks that produce the greatest amount of value for the time and effort you put in.

5. Exercise

I remember a couple of years ago I was listening to a podcast (or maybe I read it somewhere) where they were asking leaders of business what their top productivity tip was.

Most people mentioned the same type of thing you always hear when this question is asked, but there was one person who shared a tip I had never heard before…

Richard Branson.

When they asked Richard Branson what his top productivity tip was he said ‘go for a walk every day’.

He went on to say that to be the best way to be the most productive you can be is to be fit.

And I couldn’t agree more.

I have a lot of things on my plate every day, and my ability to be able to approach the difficult tasks and cut through them like a gyuto knife cuts through butter directly correlates to my psychological strength…

And nothing is better than exercising in the morning.

I try to exercise every morning…

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t…

But when I do I notice it… and when I don’t I notice it as well.

I’m becoming more consistent with my daily exercise because I know how much more productive I am when I do it.

6. Meditate

I listen to a lot of podcasts from people who are leaders in their field….

It’s one of the ways I get inspiration.

And over the last 6 months I must have heard at least 20 different people all say that they meditate every day and that it was such a big part of what contributed to their success.

So I knew that I needed to meditate but it was really hard to start doing it consistently.

Then one day a few months back I heard an episode of The Tim Ferris Show where they were speaking about meditation. In that episode he said that to start to feel the benefits of meditation you need to do it every day for at least 2 weeks.

I’d been doing everything else to maximize my productivity, but I wasn’t meditating.

So I decided to give it a try.

He recommended a few different meditation apps, and I chose to start using Headspace.

Headspace is a guided meditation where Andy Puddicombe talks you through the meditation.

It’s gamified, so there’s satisfaction when you complete a pack of 10 mediations… and it changes every day.

I’m now up to day 34 (again, I don’t do it every day) but the results are really quite amazing.

I’m more relaxed, my mind is stronger, and I can say calmer throughout the day.

Where exercise gives me energy and keeps my body fit, meditation is exercise for my mind.

7. Listen to podcasts

I have multiple, conflicting priorities on my desk every single day and often times the urgent tasks overtake the important tasks.

Listening to podcasts is one way I use to stay focused on the important tasks each day.

Why?

Because listening to (the right) podcasts gives me inspiration… and inspiration gives me the energy to drive a new initiative to fruition, and gives me a different perspective on how I approach my time.

When you’re building a company, it’s easy to get stuck in the detail. So for me, finding ways to see the woods from the trees ensures I get the most important things done every day, which ensures that every week I am moving forward in multiple key areas.

My favorite podcasts at the moment are:

I listen to podcasts when I go for my morning walk, and when I’m in the car. And often times, I listen to podcasts at 1.5 or 2x speed.

8. Be an essentialist

I subscribe to Noah Kagan’s email newsletter (if you don’t already, I’d highly recommend you subscribe as well).

In one of his emails, he mentioned a book that had impacted him so much that he wanted to email his list about it – Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

I’m always looking for new approaches to getting more out of each day so I always read at least one chapter of a book that someone I respect recommends.

Essentialism was so engaging that I finished it in a couple of days and it’s one of the only books I’ve finished reading on my Kindle (I start reading about 1-2 books a week but only finish a handful).

What Essentialism talks about is that you only have a certain amount of time and focus every single day. And if you spread that time across multiple different projects and just get a little bit done every day, it takes you far longer to complete anything, and you don’t complete anything to the level that you could if you were to focus on just one thing.

Being an Essentialist means finding the one thing that provides you the greatest opportunity to gain the maximum results from your skills, time, resources and money. You put everything into that to the exclusion of everything else and you keep working on that one thing until you hit your goal.

As an entrepreneur I was constantly jumping into new projects so it’s easy to spread my focus.

After reading Essentialism I knew the one thing I needed to put my entire focus on to achieve the best possible outcome from my time and stayed disciplined in saying ‘no’ to everything else (it’s still hard to go against my natural inclinations of starting new things).

Productivity isn’t just about getting through your tasks as efficiently and effectively every day… it’s ensuring that you are working on the right things every day so you achieve your goals as fast as possible.

Productivity is a lifelong journey

Being productive isn’t a goal… it’s a way of life.

I’ve been working on my productivity for more than 15 years and I’m still learning things every day.

And it’s not that I find new approaches to time management or productivity… it’s how I adapt what I already know to getting more done from the time I have because of how I approach it.

You need to fight for your time, and ensure your time is being spent on the right things.

I find that one of the most important things you can do to maximize your productivity is to constantly look at what you did last week and try to find a better way for how you will approach the next week.

It’s this constant focus where I get the biggest gains from my time.

It’s incremental gains on a weekly basis that equate to big gains each year.

What would Richard Branson do (WWRBD)?

I always think about how much someone like Richard Branson gets done in one day, and this keeps me open for finding new ways to get more done with the little time I have on this planet.

After you’ve achieved a certain level of success (however you measure success) your most limited resource will be time, and getting the most out of your minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will make all the different to how much you achieve in life.

It’s a lifelong journey where you continue to improve every single day (as long as you focus on it).

People who know me think I move fast… I don’t think I’m moving fast enough.

What about you? What are your best productivity tips?

Alex Cleanthous

Alex Cleanthous

Director of Strategy + Innovation | Co-Founder at Web Profits
I co-founded Web Profits in 2006 with the belief that there's always a smarter and better way to do things. We're now a digital growth consultancy with offices in Australia, Singapore, and the United States. I'm passionate about personal and professional growth, and I like to surround myself with people who are as well. I have substantial private board experience, and have successfully launched an IPO.

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I’m the co-founder of Web Profits, investor in a number of different companies, and have successfully launched an IPO. Get access to 95% of my best life hacks.