Productivity is a tricky skill to master, especially in a world where cat videos, mildly funny memes, and scrolling Instagram sneak so easily into our days. But if procrastination is a foe you know only too well, we’ve got just the thing you need—a breakdown of the productivity hacks some of the world’s most successful people use daily.
We’ve all been there, facing a busy day or week but struggling to keep your brain in gear. Or sitting on top of a huge to-do list and not knowing where to start—so you don’t for at least an hour and then wonder why you’ve wasted so much time already. Being more productive is a skill, and what works can depend on many factors not least your personality. So we’re here to help you master it once and for all. Keep scrolling for productivity tips that have already worked for super-successful people.
Know your "Big Picture" Goal
Having a wider goal is important to help you remember why you’re doing all this. Whether you’re working toward a better work/life balance, being able to spend more time with your loved ones, or getting the essential day-to-day things done so you can focus on a side hustle or a passion project, keeping the bigger picture in mind will help motivate you do get the small stuff done ASAP.
“I am motivated by happy customers, so when I hear a customer raving about Nails Inc. or Incredible, it fuels my ambition to continue growing my brand,” she tells us. “I work hard, but I spend a lot of time with my kids too, so it’s about having multiple plates spinning—but being kind to yourself when a plate drops.”
Plan Your Day
If your mind easily wanders (ever find yourself having stared at nothing for at least 10 minutes before snapping back?), giving each day a structure can help you stay on track, which certainly works for Chloé Watts, founder of Chloé Digital.
“There is always so much to do running a business, and I need to optimize my time as best as I can to push the company forward. Without prioritizing and planning, we are potentially doomed to waste time on things that do not need to be addressed in that moment, which can have a knock-on effect on other tasks,” she explains. “I put absolutely everything in my diary. I even schedule time to think about ideas in more depth, and I set my laptop to say the time every hour. My team finds it annoying, but I love it! It keeps me in check and enables me to stay present throughout the day.”
Embrace the Mini Deadline
According to Joan Murphy, founder of game-changing boutique fitness studios Frame, getting things done is all about the mini deadline and knowing when you work best.
“For me, it’s all about the mini deadlines and blocking out times in your day or week to focus specifically on one project or one piece of work,” she tells us. So how do you decide what work happens when? That’s all about understanding how your own brain works, says Joan, whose sixth and seventh Frame studios will open this year in London’s Fitzrovia and Hammersmith.
“Know when you do which work at which time best. For example, my concentration is best between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., so I do everything that requires brain power early in the day, but that’s not for everyone. Don’t forget good nutrition, fresh air, and exercise too. You need a clear mind to make decisions.”
Prioritize the Small Stuff
While some of us work best by focusing on one task at a time and sticking to a timeline, this can be a direct route to procrastination for those with short concentration spans. If you like to keep things moving quickly and find juggling easy, try this approach from Alyson Hogg, founder and CEO of tanning superbrand Vita Liberata. “I stay alert to new opportunities and ideas and remain open to incoming requests, which means I’m constantly recalibrating my priority list across any given day—I am most productive when I’m being flexible,” Alyson tells us.
“People who find change difficult usually struggle with this approach. If a task comes in that takes five minutes, I will do it straight away to tick it off the list. Then I break larger problems down into bite-size chunks and get started on the easiest tasks first; meanwhile thinking through and problem-solving the deeper issues in the background so they are already partly resolved by the time I get to them. I developed this skill while working in research.”
Strip Things Back
We’ve all wasted time on lengthy emails when actually just a few lines will do or long conversation chains when a five-minute phone call would do the trick. Andrea Horwood, co-founder and CEO of WelleCo The Super Elixir, makes stripping things back her number one priority to make sure things get done.
“Time is precious to me, not just for productivity but for life. Spend your time where it matters, and be brutal about stripping everything else back,” she tells us. “We all need a filter to keep our minds trained on what’s important—the world is crowded, our minds are crowded, and our inboxes are especially so. I like to distill, get to the essence of things, and keep to what’s important. If you have a team member who is sitting across the room, or across the world, and they are spending their time writing lengthy emails explaining how they have been spending their time, this drives me up the wall. So I would say talk it through where possible or keep it brief where not. Otherwise, you end up in a never-ending merry-go-round of time wasting.”
Have a Morning Routine
There’s a lot to be said for getting off on the right foot, so having a morning routine that helps you to set your intentions for the day can reap dividends in your personal efficiency. Sylvie Chantecaille, founder of Chantecaille Beauté, does just this. “How I begin my day sets the tone for productivity,” she explains. “I have a decent breakfast to put me in a good mood, spray myself with pure rose water to calm my mind, and take a few minutes to focus on meditation. Then I read and answer all my emails before I get to the office so I am open, available, and fresh with everyone who needs me there.”
Ditch The Devices
While the computer might be a nonnegotiable depending on your job, Paula Begoun, founder of Paula’s Choice, says that ditching all nonessential devices during her working hours helps to keep her on track. “I don’t Facebook, Tweet, Instagram, or anything else during the day unless it’s specifically related to work. That means I rarely use my phone to check my schedule or make appointments because it is so seductive to look at messages and notifications,” Paula tells us. “Believe it or not, the old-school day planner during working hours ends up being a time saver if you are someone like me, who can easily get lost in social media. When I started doing that, it immensely changed my work life for the better.”
If you’re running on empty, you can say goodbye to being your most productive self, a lesson Amanda Morgan, UK MD of Diptyque and Byredo, well understands. “Identifying your focus when juggling two brands can be challenging, so written task lists to follow does help me, but getting enough sleep is critical for how the day will go. Drinking enough water is also crucial,” she notes. “Without these two quite seemingly basic aspects, your day can either be completely productive or not at all. Outside of this, good coffee and fresh air when needed are helpful for my overall productivity. The key is to understand yourself well enough to know when you need coffee and fresh air!”
Productive versus Busy: Know the Difference
As Tim Ferriss advises in his best-selling book The 4-Hour Work Week, “Focus on being productive instead of busy.” The difference? We can all busy ourselves with emails, reports, and subtasks, but if they’re not directly contributing to what you need to accomplish, then you’re not being productive. If you can break out of the traditional office mindset that being busy and being productive—working on tasks during hours that best suit your concentration span, for example—you’ll no doubt get more done.
Accept the "Off" Days
Inevitably, we’re all going to have days when even the best-laid plans go awry, but says Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab and author of Overwhelmed, the key to being more productive is to not beat yourself up. “My top productivity tip? Compassion,” she tells Business Insider. “What compassion recognizes is that we’re human. We’re going to have stupid days when nothing seems to go right. We just will. There will be times when we’re going to be distracted, unmotivated, scattered, when some crisis at work or in life kept us up all night, or when we’re feeling just plain overwhelmed. But rather than beat ourselves up, sink into paralyzing negativity, or ruminate endlessly on what went wrong or how we failed, compassion enables us to forgive ourselves, to learn what we can, to see that it’s all about practicing, to let go of perfection, and—lightly and with grace—to move forward and try again.”
Don't Let Emails Take Over
A busy inbox can be a huge drain on your time, so set up a few rules to keep emails from taking over your day. Lots of busy CEOs implement an inbox checking schedule so that you only open your inbox at set points during the day and allow yourself an allotted amount of time to deal with responses that are necessary. Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox, also ensures her team flags emails that need a response in the subject line. “I insist that people on the Birchbox team indicate when they need a response in all emails. It makes prioritization so much faster,” she tells Lifehacker.com.