50 Productivity Hacks from Rich & Famous People
- Don’t break the chain.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld uses a productivity method that’s growing in popularity. It’s called “don’t break the chain” and consists of crossing off days on a calendar only after completing a to-do list assigned to that day, with motivation coming from reluctance to break the chain. There are a number of apps available that employ this method, including Wonderful Day and Daily Deeds.
- Go paperless.
While now retired, Bill Gates once headed up one of the biggest companies in the world. When asked what he did to maximize his workflow and to stay organized, Gates named limiting paper as one key component, which shouldn’t be surprising considering this tech-guru’s commitment to the digital world. Still, even for those of us who aren’t CEOs, limiting paper can be a great way to reduce clutter, keep things organized, and streamline work.
- Focus on a few things.
There’s a reason Apple’s products are so well-designed: Steve Jobs didn’t believe in multi-tasking. When he took over at Apple, he reduced the number of products they offered from dozens to just a handful, allowing the company to concentrate on perfecting those products. It’s a method that works well for productivity, too. When you focus on a few things rather than several, you can give each more attention and improve the quality of your work.
- Work out.
Billionaire Richard Branson doesn’t believe that productivity is simply the product of a well-trained mind, also highlighting the importance of taking care of the body. Science has shown that’s he’s right, demonstrating the mental benefits of exercise which include increased energy levels, positive thinking, less stress, and even fewer health problems. So, to emulate the productivity of this business mogul, get yourself to the gym.
- Avoid meetings.
Businessman and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban thinks meetings are a huge waste of time. To get more done and avoid the time suck that these get-togethers can be, Cuban relies on email to talk to clients and coworkers. He then organizes and files these emails so he can keep up with correspondence on his own time.
- Redefine failure.
Born in Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey offers some sage advice when it comes to creating the life you want. Working hard is great, but she also believes that success is the result of redefining what it means to fail. Instead of wasting time bemoaning something that didn’t work out, she believes that it’s important to appreciate the journey, try again, and continue to take risks. Focusing on the process to get through a difficult time is a sure way to get more done and to learn lessons you can use again.
- Stay motivated.
Lady Gaga has put out some of the biggest albums in the world over the past few years, all while touring, holding a number of corporate advisory positions, and doing advocacy work. How does she do it all? She credits her almost superhuman level of motivation, a factor that is constantly driving her to create and work harder. You don’t have to be a pop star to put that to use in your own life by finding ways to motivate yourself to get more done, even when you’re tired or don’t feel like it.
- Use your downtime wisely.
Despite working behind the scenes, Steven Spielberg is one of the biggest and best-known names in Hollywood, and he didn’t get there by accident. Spielberg has worked hard and employs a method of productivity that almost anyone can follow. Instead of wasting downtime between takes, Spielberg uses that time to work on his next project. You can do the same. Use time on public transport, waiting for a call, or even driving in your car to get more done.
- Get up early.
Donald Trump is an example of the early bird getting the worm. The billionaire rises at 5 a.m. every day in order to give him time to read six different newspapers, watch the news, and to look through magazines and books. He does all this before heading to the office at 8:30, saying that he needs at least three hours in the morning for thinking and reading to be able to start his day. While you don’t have to follow his early morning reading model, getting up early could help you to get a head start on your day and make the most of the hours before work.
- Finish what you start.
Writer, actor, director, and producer Tyler Perry may be in a creative field, but he knows a thing or two about business and being productive, too. One of his tips for small business owners is to finish what you start. Instead of getting distracted and moving on to the next thing, this method will allow you to follow through and make the most of the work you’ve already put into something.
- Get enough sleep.
One of the best productivity secrets may be one of the simplest: get more sleep. Arianna Huffington has said, “My single most effective trick for getting things done is to stop doing what I’m doing and get some sleep.” Research has shown that well-rested people are more focused, creative, and learn better, all giving productivity a serious boost.
- Don’t have an assistant.
While being able to delegate tasks to others can be useful in boosting your productivity, Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin found that they got more done without an assistant. Why the change? Both felt that they were being scheduled in too many undesired meetings, and they believe people are much more reluctant to request time when they have to do it directly rather than through an assistant.
- Set goals and meet them.
Maine-born Stephen King is able to be one of the most prolific authors of our time because of a simple method. King tries to write at least 1,000 words every day, including weekends and holidays, with no exceptions. This kind of goal setting is incredibly productive: King has published 49 novels to date.
- Work on the weekends.
Carol Smith, CRO at Harper’s Bazaar, employs a productivity method that requires working on the weekends, but it’s not as bad as you think. She heads into the office on Sunday for just a few hours, allowing her to catch up on email and ready herself for Monday. That way, she starts the week without any busywork to do, allowing her to jump right in and tackle real work.
- Track your progress.
It’s easy to feel like you’re just spinning your wheels and not making much progress in your career or on projects that mean a lot to you. Angel investor and Google board member Ram Shriram says that the best way to make improvements and to stay productive is to keep a business journal. The journal can serve as a manual for what works and what doesn’t, helping you move forward, learn lessons, and streamline your methods for almost everything.
- Take things one step at a time.
Will Smith is undoubtedly a man who gets a lot done in a day, so how does he do it? A method he uses is to take things one step at a time. Instead of focusing on the big picture, he advocates looking to the smaller parts that will add up to something big. He has said, “Don’t say to yourself that you’re going to make the greatest wall ever made. Set one brick at a time as perfectly as you can. Do that every day, and soon you will have a wall.” It’s solid advice, and something that anyone can use.
- Don’t get sidetracked.
Harry Potter is one of the best-selling books of all time, but author J.K. Rowling didn’t have an easy time getting it published. In fact, one publisher advised that she set the book aside and get a day job, as she had little chance of making a living as an author. Instead of taking this advice and letting a day job sidetrack her efforts, she stuck with what she really felt was important. The same thing can do wonders for your productivity; when you eliminate all those things that can sidetrack you, you can focus on what really matters.
- Use the GTD method.
David Allen’s iconic productivity method isn’t just useful for common folk; celebrities use it, too. One big fan of GTD (Getting Things Done) is Tom Cruise, who uses the method to save time, get more done, and organize the enormous amount of commitments he has each week.
- Remind yourself of the competition.
Henrik Ibsen was immensely successful as a playwright, but he never let himself forget that there were others out there who were just as good, including his arch-rival August Strindburg. Ibsen is said to have kept a photo of Strindburg on his desk to motivate him to work harder. The same method might just work for you and push you to give your all.
- Regularly self-assess.
As a statesman, author, inventor, and printer, Ben Franklin was pretty busy, but he kept his productivity up by using daily self-assessments. When he woke in the morning, he would ask himself, “What good shall I do this day?” Before bed, he would review what good he had done for the day. This method, along with a rigid schedule, helped him to eliminate things that didn’t matter from his day and focus on things that did.
- Develop a routine.
Haruki Murakami’s novels can be pretty lengthy tomes and he gets them written bit by bit by maintaining a daily routine. He wakes at 4 a.m., works for five hours, runs or swims, reads and listens to music, then heads to bed at 9 p.m. He believes that this devotion to routine and repetition is a form of mental training, making him ultimately stronger and more productive in his work.
- Don’t overwork yourself.
One of the worst things you can do for your productivity is try to get too much done in a day. It might sound counterintuitive, but this method can easily burn you out and leave you mentally drained. Many great minds have sworn by this method, including Michel Foucault, who only worked from 9 to 3, and Beethoven maintained a similar schedule, working from sunrise to early afternoon.
- Take a break away from your desk.
One way to avoid overworking yourself is to take breaks, a method appreciated by famous statesman Winston Churchill. In his later years, Churchill would do little work between noon and 11 p.m. and was a hearty endorser of the nap.
- Walk around.
Walks can help you to gather your thoughts, wake up your brain, and feel calmer and less stressed. The daily walk habit is a productivity method employed by greats like Nelson Mandela and Beethoven (who called this “walking while working”).
- Do it your way.
Don’t waste time trying to fit your ideas into someone else’s method. Do it your own way instead. Madonna is often held up as a great example of this method to get things done, as she has met with a great amount of derision throughout her career and has pressed on anyway. If something’s working for you, tune out the critics and be productive and successful your own way.
- Take a nap.
Naps can be a powerful productivity tool, as they’re a great way to recharge your energy and give you greater mental focus. Renaissance man Leonardo Da Vinci was supposedly a great napper and so was Thomas Edison, who slept only four to five hours a night and took frequent catnaps.
- Let technology do the work.
New York Times columnist David Pogue keeps an insane schedule writing books, columns, blogs, speaking, and filming videos. One of the ways he keeps up with it is to use technology to help him out. He uses typing-expansion software and dictation applications to speed up his creative process and databases to organize important information.
- Have a life.
CEO Carol Vallone doesn’t think that being a business leader should preclude her from having a personal life. In fact, she believes it actually helps her perform better when she’s in the office. Vallone coaches her softball team, an activity she credits with helping her learn leadership and think in different ways. With research pointing to external commitments being correlated to high achievement, it isn’t a bad idea for anyone to balance work life with home life.
- Say no.
Nearly everyone has heard of investment superstar Warren Buffet, but most aren’t familiar with what he does to keep up with his hectic business life. Buffet says the key to his success has been saying no, stating, “For every 100 great opportunities that are brought to me, I say no 99 times.” This propensity for saying no allows him to concentrate on just a few things, and to ultimately be more productive.
- Use fear.
Fear can be an amazing motivator and even big stars use it to get more out of their work. Judd Apatow is one example as he says that he’s “driven by the terror of humiliation.” While failure doesn’t have to be the end of the world, the drive to avoid the disappointment and bad feelings that come along with it can motivate you to get yourself in gear.
Eliot Spitzer may have resigned from his job as governor of New York in disgrace, but that doesn’t mean the politician can’t offer some solid advice on getting things done. His productivity method is to set priorities, focusing on the things that really matter instead of attempting to tackle an entire to-do list at once.
- Go down to the wire.
Elizabeth Banks is just one among many who use procrastination as a productivity tool. Waiting until the last minute gets many people amped up and they can finish much more in those last minutes than they could have if they spaced out their work. While the method doesn’t work for everyone, for some it can be valuable productivity tool, though it really should be used in moderation.
- Keep things cleaned and organized.
Carrie Brownstein, musician and star of the Oregon-basedshow Portlandia, says that organization is key to her productivity. She can’t work in a dirty or cluttered space, so she has to clean up before she can focus on the task at hand. Many others report feeling similarly, so it can be a good idea to calm the chaos in your workspace if you really want to buckle down and get to work.
- Delegate tasks.
Executive editor of The New York Times Bill Keller gets more out of his day by delegating tasks to others. He admits, however, that that method only works since he’s surrounded by smart, competent people.
- Eliminate distractions.
Distractions can be the bane of productivity and that’s why writers like Curtis Sittenfeld do all they can to eliminate them while working. Sittenfeld opens only what she’s working on, turns off her phone and email notifications, saves online articles to read at a later date, and reduces commitments so she can focus on work.
- Just do it.
Robert A.M. Stern uses a simple but effective method to motivate him to be productive in his architecture work: he just knuckles down and does things. Stern admits to delegating when he can, but if he can’t, then the best method for him is to just get whatever task needs to be done completed.
- Decide what not to do.
For Smithsonian board member Patty Stonesifer, deciding what not to do is just as important, if not more so, than deciding what to do. This method frees up her calendar and allows her to focus on the big stuff that really matters. To determine what matters and what doesn’t, Stonesifer asks herself, “If I had to do this today, would I be glad?” You can use a similar method in your own work, though you might not have as much flexibility in what you get to say no to doing.
- Focus on results, not time spent.
Senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, author, and financial investment chairman Bob Pozen advocates focusing on what you get out of the time you spend working, not how much time you work. He doesn’t think staying late at work every night or working every weekend is a good model. Instead, getting more done in a reasonable time frame is a better way to be productive, though for those who bill by the hour some changes to accounting might be necessary.
- Get a head start on the day.
Being a president is perhaps one of the most stressful and demanding jobs in the world. To be successful at it takes a lot of hard work and a commitment to being as productive as possible. One way our current president does this is by spending a few hours before bed each night reviewing important documents, going through correspondence, and even to writing speeches. This method can work well for the average worker, too, helping you start each day organized and ready to go.
- Forget the recipe.
Following a recipe to the letter is one way to make a meal, but chef Michael Ruhlman says there’s a better way: using ratios. These ratios save time and allow cooks to be more creative. But what if you don’t work in a kitchen? You can still employ a similar method, forgoing the prescribed method of doing things for a way that streamlines things and breaks them down to the essential components.
- Keep your workspace clean but personal.
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, has a workspace that’s set up to maximize productivity, and it’s a model that anyone can emulate. Ballmer has a streamlined space for work as well as space that organizes his files and showcases personal items.
- Limit noise.
Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman was well-known for his hatred of noise. He found that background chatter made it hard for him to concentrate and would often require that “quiet” signs be posted around the set or stage while he was working. Noise can be terribly distracting, so consider limiting what sounds you allow in your workspace.
- Let the work come to you.
The career of an artist depends on his or her ability to maximize creative output. Except what if that creative idea just won’t come? Gerhard Richter didn’t believe in forcing it, instead working on other projects or doing things around the house, while waiting for an idea to come to him. While we might not all have the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to strike, he was correct in asserting that you can’t force creativity when you’re just not feeling it. When inspiration does strike, however, make sure to capitalize on it and the productivity surge it can bring.
- Forget about work when you’re at home.
Journalist and biographer Robert Caro works long hours, seven days a week, but when he is at home, work is set aside. Certain work-related topics are off-limits for conversation and books aren’t allowed in the living or dining room.
- Know your peak times.
We all have times during the day when we’re most productive or just feel sluggish. Capitalizing on them can be a big productivity boon, something writer Gunter Grass is very much in tune with for his creative work. He has said that he refuses to write after dark because, while its easier for him to write at night, the work just isn’t as good. Instead, he focuses on prime daylight hours instead.
- Cut out people who drain your energy.
Everyone knows people who are a drain on energy and patience, and some of them are hard to avoid. Still, you should try if you’re trying to max out productivity. Even Booker T. Washington knew this productivity secret stating, “The number of people who stand ready to consume one’s time, to no purpose, is almost countless.”
- Put quality over quantity.
Getting more work done isn’t the sole purpose of productivity. In fact, what really matters isn’t the quantity but the quality of your work. Vince Lombardi once said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” This quote is a method to live by when it comes to getting things done, whether you’re opening mail or running a major company.
- Find the silver lining.
Every day there are numerous obstacles that make work more difficult to accomplish. Yet according to Einstein’s philosophy, those things actually provide opportunities for greater success and productivity. He is quoted as saying, “Out of clutter, find simplicity, from discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
- Love what you do.
Albert Schweitzer believed that success wasn’t the key to happiness. The real key, he said, was to love what you do. If you love what you do, it won’t feel like work, and in turn, you’ll get more out of it, work harder, and be more productive.
- Don’t limit yourself.
Henry Ford understood that one of the biggest obstacles or advantages in being productive and successful is mindset. If you think you can’t accomplish something, you probably won’t. If you believe you can, you are much more likely to actually do so. Self-limiting beliefs can be substantial roadblocks in doing anything and can derail even the most productive among us. The solution? Don’t let them. Instead, go into every day with confidence. You’ll inevitably find more success and get more done than if you start out with a negative attitude.