Q: What is one thing you do daily to work smarter?
A: I actually felt like I was a fairly productive person before I started [writing Smarter Faster Better]. But I had no idea how much more productive I could become. I’m very deliberate about how I set goals now. There’s this whole science of how to write to-do lists correctly. At the top of your to-do list, you really need a stretch goal—you need this big ambition that’s going to help you avoid the trap of craving cognitive closure, craving the ability to check things off your to-do list and feeling self-satisfied without getting anything really important done.
On the top of my list, I always put a stretch goal. And then underneath that—and this takes around 45 seconds—I write smart goals related to that stretch goal. I come up with a way to measure it so I know when I’m done. I make sure it’s achievable, which forces me to really think about exactly what I’m going to do.
Related: 10 Steps to Achieve Any Goal
Q: What advice would you give people looking for creative inspiration on a short deadline?
A: If you’re looking for creative inspiration, the No. 1 thing you can do—and we know this from study after study—is take two familiar ideas and try and figure out how to jam them together in a new way. When we talk about creativity, very often people think of creativity as something where someone has an idea that comes fully formed into their mind that’s totally new and original. But what we know from studies of creativity is that almost never happens. What usually happens is that these people known as innovation brokers, they’ll take two ideas that are almost clichéd or pretty well worn and then they’ll push them together in some new way. It’s the juxtaposition of two ideas that makes the creative spark happen.
Q: What is the biggest secret to being productive?
A: It’s a secret with two parts. The first is to realize that anyone can become more productive. We have this tendency to treat productivity as something that is an inborn trait or [something] that super-smart people have figured out. All the science tells us that that’s not correct at all. Anyone can become more productive.
The people who are the most productive are the people who recognize the decisions they can make that other people don’t even see. The people who sit down and understand that there’s more than one way to write a to-do list—in fact, there’s a right way and a wrong way. Those are people who become productive. Anyone can do that; these are learnable skills. And the key is that once you learn these skills, once you begin to appreciate them, you see these choices that other people don’t even perceive. And making those choices—that’s the key to productivity.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.