100 Simple Secrets of Productive People

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: March 24, 2020
productivity secrets

Everyone wants to reach peak productivity—accomplishing more in less time—but what’s the best way to do it?

In the sections that follow, we’ll recount some of the best hacks, habits and best-kept secrets that stand between you and higher productivity.

Goals, Priorities and Time Scheduling

Let’s start by covering productivity secrets related to goal setting, priorities, and managing your time:

1. Make a to-do list the night before. If you start the day with a clear to-do list, you’ll have direction for the rest of the day.

2. Learn to say no. Some things simply aren’t worth your time. Say “no” more frequently and make time for the things that matter most.

3. Wake up and go to bed consistently. A consistent sleep schedule will help you feel well rested, but it will also set the foundation for a stricter daily schedule.

4. Keep a routine. Routines cut down on time you spend switching tasks and eliminate some uncertainty in your day. They can (and should) be broken occasionally, but they should stand as the “norm.”

5. Think of your time in chunks. Elon Musk schedules his day in five-minute blocks. You don’t have to be that extreme, but do consider your time in chunks to schedule more efficiently.

6. Use an Eisenhower matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix is a system that forces you to prioritize in terms of both urgency and importance, so you can more efficiently decide what your highest needs are.

7. Set personal goals. Long-term and short-term goals will keep you focused on what’s most important.

8. Keep a list of secondary and tertiary tasks to work on. You’ll occasionally find yourself with dead time, so keep a list of background tasks to keep you busy in these spaces.

9. Define the “challenge” level of each task. This will help you mentally prepare for each type of task and reorganize your day according to these challenge levels.

10. Break big tasks into smaller tasks. Make things more manageable and easier to schedule.

11. Know when to procrastinate. Procrastination is usually a bad thing, but it can work in your favor—if you’ll be able to complete this task more efficiently in the future, with no consequences.

12. Plan your conversations (to an extent). Meetings and phone calls can waste a lot of time, so think about what you want to say in advance. Just don’t become a robot.

13. Always schedule in smaller time intervals. People mistakenly schedule meetings to last half an hour or an hour, resulting in time waste. Consider scheduling 20-minute or 15-minute meetings instead.

14. …but leave some breathing room in your schedule. If you over-schedule, you’ll wish you had more flexible time to get things done.

15. Think about outcomes instead of effort. When scheduling and prioritizing, think about the big-picture results of each action, rather than the amount of effort each action will take.

16. Do little tasks immediately. Don’t let those pesky one-minute tasks pile up. Do them right away.

17. Set personal deadlines. According to Parkinson’s Law, the amount of time it takes to do something swells to fill whatever time was allocated for it. Therefore, if you schedule tighter deadlines for yourself, you should be able to complete your work faster.

Health and Energy

People often underestimate the role their physical health plays in influencing their productivity. With the right healthy habits, you’ll miss fewer sick days, you’ll have more energy, and you’ll be in a better mood—all of which affect your productivity. 

18. Eat a nutritious breakfast. You’ll have more energy and less stress. Try eggs and whole wheat toast or a bowl of oatmeal with cottage cheese.

19. Avoid junk food, but feel free to snack. Junk food will give you a sugar rush that eventually leads to a crash. Instead, stick to healthy snacks like vegetables or nuts.

20. Keep yourself hydrated. Even a slight drop in hydration can lead to a massive drop in performance. Keep a glass of water by your desk.

21. Utilize caffeine intelligently. A bit of caffeine early in the day can increase your focus and alertness. Too much or too late, however, could wreck your sleep schedule.

22. Take the time to exercise. Exercise results in both a short-term and long-term boost in mood and productivity (plus a longer lifespan if you do it consistently).

23. Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. You know how bad sleep deprivation is. Make sleep a priority.

24. Take naps if you need a recharge. I know you can’t always get seven to nine hours. Take a nap if you need it.

25. Breathe fresh air. Going outside is a nice break that can reset your mind and relieve stress.

26. Let in sunlight. Sunlight improves your mood and keeps you alert.

27. Get ergonomic furniture. Bad posture and uncomfortable furniture can result in chronic pain, missed days of work and other forms of productivity loss.

28. Know your ideal temperature. Different people have different tastes; know yours, and try to keep the temperature consistently there.

29. Surround yourself with artwork. Looking at abstract art can boost your creativity and relieve stress.

30. Incorporate refreshing scents. Some studies suggest certain scents can boost productivity, like coffee or lemon.

31. Pet an animal (or give someone a hug). Physical affection boosts oxytocin levels and provides a short-term boost to your mood.

Psychological Hacks

Now let’s delve into the world of psychological hacks. These tricks and subtle changes can help you see work differently, and work more efficiently.

32. Clean your desk. Forget the anecdotes that Einstein was messy. Clean your desk and you’ll clear your mind and feel better about your work environment.

33. Accomplish something early every day. An early win can set the tone for the entire day. Knock out something small yet significant.

34. Finish the day on a high note. We remember the end of the day more than the middle, so give yourself a late victory or high note. It’s good motivation.

35. Practice visualization. Visualize yourself doing whatever you want to do; it will be easier to do it when the time comes.

36. Meditate. Mindfulness meditation relieves stress, increases emotional control and improves concentration. Do it consistently.

37. Schedule tasks from difficult to easy. There are different philosophies here, but most people lose energy throughout the day; accordingly, they should schedule their hardest tasks first and work toward easier tasks.

38. Understand and try to achieve flow. Flow is a state of hyper-focus, achievable when you’re undistractedly working on something sufficiently challenging and interesting. It’s the ultimate state of productivity.

39. Identify and limit distractions. Distractions cost you more time than you realize. Identify your pain points and take action.

40. Turn off notifications. Those notifications aren’t helping you. Turn them off. All of them.

41. Put away unnecessary devices. Even if it’s off, a nearby smartphone can reduce your productivity.

42. Work somewhere new. Work gets stale when it’s too repetitive. Try working in a new location, or even rearranging the furniture.

43. Learn your limits. How much of a workload is too much? Identify your own limits.

44. Delegate what isn’t helping you. If it’s beneath you or isn’t worth your time, delegate it to someone else.

45. Find the right music (or noise). The relationship between music and productivity is complex, but music you like at a moderate volume (with minimal lyrics) can help you focus.

46. Learn to avoid multitasking. It never works. Trust me.

47. Plan rewards for yourself. A special treat for yourself can help you achieve your goals.

48. Fix your posture. Power poses, which force you to sit or stand tall with your shoulders back, can make you feel more confident and work more efficiently.  

49. Integrate laughter into the workday. Laughing relieves stress like nothing else. Talk to a funny co-worker or find funny videos throughout the day.

50. Call a loved one. A quick conversation with someone you love can make your stress melt away.

51. Redefine the stress in your life. People manage stress better when they see it as a natural bodily response to a challenge, rather than a burden of painful circumstances.

52. Learn to see failure as an opportunity. Similarly, people deal with failure better when they see it as a learning opportunity.

53. Get a few plants. Greenery can make you happier and more productive.

54. Make decisions faster. Think through your decisions, but don’t overthink them. Hesitating too long costs you time and makes you more likely to regret your decision if it doesn’t work out. Be decisive.

55. Acknowledge and limit decision fatigue. Too many decisions can wear on you, increasing stress. Limit decisions by leaving some of them to chance, to other people or to repetition (like eating the same lunch every day).

56. Put a list of accomplishments by your desk. List whatever you’re proud of and turn to this list whenever you’re feeling defeated.

57. Keep your perfectionism in check. Perfect is the enemy of good.

58. Do something that makes you happy. A few minutes spent on a hobby can instantly boost your mood and make you ready to work again.

59. Start working on intimidating tasks in small time intervals (the “five-minute rule”). It’s hard to start tasks and much easier to keep momentum going. Many people find it easier to commit to spending just five minutes on a task. After completing those five minutes, you’ll be much more motivated to continue working on it.

60. See the quality of your work—not just the quantity. Think of your output not in terms of quantity alone, but in terms of both quality and quantity.

61. Practice what challenges you. Don’t shy away from your most challenging tasks—practice those the most.

62. Make yourself a part of the community. Engage with your teammates. Being social and feeling like part of the team can do wonders for your motivation.

Mastering the Art of Timing

Sometimes, doing tasks with different timing patterns is all it takes to improve your total output.

63. Do creative tasks earlier in the day. It’s harder to be creative after a long day of hard work.

64. Know your “peak” productivity hours. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Plan your day accordingly.

65. Set firm limits for checking email. Checking email late into the night is bad for your mental health. Draw a line between personal and professional hours.

66. Alternate between “open” and “heads-down” time. Communication is great, but it can also be a distraction. Set “open for communication” and “heads down” time, and be public about it.

67. Adhere to your meeting agendas. Don’t let meetings go off on tangents. It wastes everyone’s time.

68. Limit meetings altogether. In fact, stop meeting so much overall.

69. Make use of your commute. Voicemails, audiobooks and recordings can all help you stay productive during your drive.

70. Learn to harness dead time. Waiting in line? Spend some time organizing your inbox or jotting down some notes for later.

71. Take frequent breaks. Breaks give you a chance to recover your energy.

72. Break in the middle of something—not at the end. It’s easier to pick up a task in the middle of a stretch of work than to start a new task from scratch.

73. Relax on vacation. Occasional vacations are great for your mental health.

74. Set timers for distracting tasks and thoughts. Instead of shutting down distractions completely, try indulging them—but only for a short period of time. Then get back to work.

75. Make time for catching up. Schedule “catch up” hours, or entire “catch up” days.

76. Firmly separate work life and personal life. You need downtime and time away from the office to avoid burnout.

77. Know when you’re overwhelmed, and step away. If things get to be too much, cut back your hours.

78. Spend weekends doing what you want. Find fulfilling hobbies and forms of entertainment for the weekends.

Saving Time on Common Tasks

There are probably a few dozen tasks that you do regularly. These are some strategies to help you master them.

79. Understand the lazy man’s secret. Productivity is about working less, not working more. Use automation and forms of simplification to reduce your total workload.

80. Set up automatic email filters. Automatic email filters will do your organization work for you, saving countless hours in the long run.

81. Write up some templates. Basic templates for messages and documents will save you time every time you call on them.

82. Automate whatever you can. Niche apps can help you automate many of your simple tasks.

83. Increase your typing speed. Most of us type hundreds to thousands of words a day, so why not spend some time practicing typing faster?

84. Use dictation software. Better yet, skip the typing and invest in good dictation software.

85. Master keyboard shortcuts. There are tons of basic keyboard shortcuts and even more app-specific shortcuts to learn. If mastered, they can save you a lot of time.

86. Keep your messages concise. Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick? Seriously though, keep your messages short and sweet.

87. Experiment with “time-saving apps.” There are hundreds of apps dedicated to saving you time, either with organization, prioritization, automation or some other function. Not all of them will save you time. Experiment and keep the ones that work.

88. …but only use a few at a time. Don’t go on a downloading spree. Focus on one or two at a time.

89. Learn tips and tricks for your favorite software. Most of us use programs like Excel, Word and Gmail on a daily basis. The better you know these programs, the more efficiently you can use them.

Know Thyself

Understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and pay attention to how you respond to these tips and tricks. The more you introspect, the better your final results will be.

90. Find someone who complements your skills. You have strengths and weaknesses, so try to work with someone who complements them—the yin to your yang.

91. Understand core problems. Some productivity issues can’t be fixed with a good breakfast or automation. Bad management, a bad career fit and severe personal problems all require specific attention if you’re going to recover.

92. Use a time-tracking app. Pay attention to how much time you spend on different tasks. Where are you wasting time? Where can you improve? How much time are these tricks really saving you?

93. Experiment with new approaches. Treat your productivity like a scientist would, with controlled experiments, hypotheses and conclusions.

94. Keep a personal log or journal. Write down your progress, keep track of your thoughts and feelings, and improve your self-awareness overall.

95. Set KPIs and goals for personal productivity. What do you consider to be “productive”? Which metrics are most important to measure? Time spent? Tasks completed? Try to set goals in terms of specific numbers and soft deadlines.

96. Track your progress (or lack thereof). How are you progressing? Why are you progressing (or why aren’t you)?

97. Isolate and understand individual variables. If you’re studying your own productivity, try to isolate variables; try one new thing at a time so you can study it in a vacuum.

98. Observe mentors. Pay attention to your productivity mentors—the people in your office who always seem ahead of the curve. What are they doing that you’re not doing?

99. Collect feedback. Ask your bosses, supervisors and even your co-workers what they think about your performance. Do they see things that waste your time or prevent you from seeing your full potential?

100. Be patient. Finally, be patient. No one can go from a novice to a productivity master overnight. It’s going to take time to understand where you are, set goals and tinker your way toward success. Don’t rush the process.

Not everyone responds to work or productivity changes the same way, so spend some time experimenting to see what works for you. At least some of these habits and tips should stick, making you a more productive—and in most cases, happier—professional.

Photo by Burst/Pexels.com

Jayson DeMers is the founder and CEO of EmailAnalytics, a productivity tool that connects to your Gmail or G Suite account and visualizes your email activity—or that of your employees.