The Best Time Management Software

==> Go back to The Best Time Management Books, Courses, and Programs

One doesn’t have to use time management software to help manage their workflow. Sometimes just a pad of paper and a pen will work enough; in fact, if you haven’t at least tried to plan your day in this ‘old fashioned method,’ I believe you should before you go out and buy any kind of program.

Still, sometimes the allure of technology will help us in unexpected ways. Thus, getting time management software may be a great option for you, especially if you are technologically inclined. There’s not many choices of programs out there that serve this purpose, but there’s one program in particular that I can recommend with the highest honors.

The Best Time Management Software to Buy

I recommended this piece of software in the procrastination resources chapter, and I’ll repeat that recommendation here because I think very highly of this planning, organization, and ‘action’ tool. This tool is The Action Machine. Here is a screenshot:

As you can see from the image, this program lets you plan out your day in exquisite detail. On the left side is a list of tasks that you have added yourself; when you do a new task not on the list, it will add to it for your future use. You then assign each task a certain amount of time that you’ll dedicate to it for that day. When you’re ready to do the task, simply hit “play,” and the timer you set up will start going down. When you’re done with the task, an alarm will sound, and you can move on to the next one.

This program is incredibly easy to use, as it’s really intuitive and takes no time to get used to. The only drawback to it is that you need to be near your computer in order to use it, but that’s a small price to pay for the power it offers.

The other great aspect of The Action Machine is that it’s not just a planning tool, though it certainly is strong in that area. The best part of this time management solution is that it’s also an “action” tool, hence the name. It gives you a way to get started and to monitor your progress on tasks. Plus, it gives you many of the benefits of good time management practice that have been discussed elsewhere in this book. For instance, it make you focus on one task at a time, and it allows you to break up larger tasks into more manageable chunks. We can also know, at the end of the day, how much work we actually accomplished. This is very useful for time management because we will have the truth about our work habits, and not some fantasy that lives in our head.

Click here to check out The Action Machine.

A Word of Warning

While most time management apps and software can be very helpful when you’re trying to be more efficient, sometimes these tools can be more of a distraction than anything else. Having to constantly update and monitor and change the information in the program can be a task in itself. Sometimes it may be sufficient to use the old school “pencil and paper” method or a physical time management planner to keep track of your tasks.

For example, I recently tried using a free time management app on my iPhone. Even though the application was pretty cool at first, I found after a few days that it became more of a hassle to use than a useful implement. Having to constantly open the app became a chore. Sometimes I just wanted to be able to write down a note very quickly, and having to type it all out, letter by letter, on the touch screen interface was annoying. I stopped using it after those days and haven’t touched it since; I’ve gone back to a combination of pencil and paper and using The Action Machine.

This isn’t to discourage you from using time management tools like The Action Machine; it is just a note that sometimes these programs can be a crutch or a way of avoiding the reality of actually having to do work.

==> Go to Chapter 10: Time Management in Context

Chapter 9: The Best Time Management Books, Courses, and Programs

==> Go back to To Do Lists, Managing Tasks, and Planning Skills

We’ve just discussed some ways to improve our time management skills, but what if you want more information, advice, and tools? There is plenty of stuff out there that can help you on your productivity journey. Even though the time management articles found in this webbook will help, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the other awesome resources out there.

But there are just so many, how do we know where to start? I’ve looked at a lot of time management courses, books and other programs that are designed to teach people about time management and help them incorporate these best practices into their lives. This article will thus give you a rundown and review of some of the better time management resources out there. The next section of this chapter will cover time management software.

The Best Time Management E-Courses

There are many time management workshops and seminars that you can take in real life. I have little experience with these, so I can’t say much about them except to say that they will probably be useful only if they give you some kind of hard copy of the program to take with you. I also have no recommendations when it comes to time management coaches, gurus, experts, and so on. I can make some recommendations about books and the like, but not about individuals who may purport to teach you how to manage your time successfully. Some will be good, but I fear that most will not be worth it, especially considering how much they will charge.

I can say a bit about online courses, however. There are some e-courses out there that can help you crush procrastination and increase your productivity. I mention a couple good ones in the procrastination help resources chapter. However, in terms of time management, there are no courses dedicated “specifically” to time management, though really any course on productivity, getting stuff done, and procrastination will touch on this issue. Remember that time management, as we defined it, touches on a lot of different activities and practices. Thus, while there may be no one “guru” course, anything you do to increase your productivity is also improving your time management skills.

Note that if you want to teach a time management seminar or class, you can use the information you’ve learned in this book as a good foundation. In fact, you could direct your students to this book as a way for them to learn about the many issues surrounding managing time, such as productivity, laziness, hard work, procrastination, and more! I am considering releasing this webbook as a time management pdf as well; if you’re interested in possibly obtaining this e-book, let me know in the comments below!

The Best Time Management Books

First, I have to point out this webbook as a resource – though it’s not a time management blog, I will be updating it regularly with new content, chapters, tools, approaches and so on. I may actually eventually add time management exercises, worksheets, quizzes, tests, and other activities. A good survey or questionnaire can really enlighten you, but at this point I’m sticking to just giving out some information. So check back regularly (bookmark and share this page) for more information and resources.

Unlike e-courses and e-books, there are plenty of great time management books out there. I can’t review them all, obviously, but there are a few that I quite like. Note that many of the same books I talk about in the procrastination resources chapter will also apply here too!

Perhaps the gold-standard book when it comes to time management is David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. In this book, Allen discusses the foundations of time management, and teaches you a system for organizing all the tasks you have to do – for your life! – and gives you the framework to attack them one by one. This is a great time management book if you like to be organized; if you’re not someone who likes to write everything out, you may not like this system. However, realize that part of time management is writing things out, so that may be something you’ll have to get over.

There are of course a ton of other time management books out there, including Time Management For Dummies if you really want, but this is perhaps the best one to start with. If this system doesn’t fly for you, you can try other ones, though GTD in combination with this webbook should be enough for most people. To see other time management books at Amazon, click this link.

The main problem sometimes with books on time management and other ‘self-help’ books is that we rely too much on the actual reading of it. In the end, what will make us change is a concerted effort to change our habits. Too many people skip this part and wonder why reading one book hasn’t miraculously changed their lives. Instead, action should come first, second, and third – with reading and learning a distant fourth.

Much More to Come

I will eventually provide some more time management tools and resources – including presentations, powerpoints, videos, schedules, templates, forms, and other downloads.

==> Go to The Best Time Management Software

Chapter 8: Time Management Tips, Techniques, and Skills

==> Go back to What is Time Management?

Now that we have determined the proper definition and meaning of time management, let’s do something with that knowledge and actually improve our skills. Here is a list of some of the best and most useful time management activities out there. We will continually add more ideas to this list as we think or find them.

Note that different time management systems and products will have their own philosophies about how best to manage your time. In a later chapter we will recommend and review some of the more popular time management programs and courses out there, but for now we’re just going to give general tips that can apply to any system. In addition, these time management tips should apply to almost anyone in any situation. They should be universal enough that, when properly applied, they should work for anybody who is looking to be more efficient and productive.

Of course, the usual caveat is in order – read the other chapters of this webbook for more information and tips regarding killing procrastination, increasing productivity, and so on. While many of those tips may be repeated here, each chapter will have its unique perspective!

How to Improve Time Management Skills

  1. Get used to writing down your tasks, goals, and progress. One of the critical time management ideas is this: we spend too much of our time letting things happen by chance. We don’t plan our goals enough, we don’t write down our tasks, and we don’t monitor our progress closely. We just kind of wing it. This won’t fly if you want to improve your time management abilities. Get used to keeping some kind of journal or log – it doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook, binder, spreadsheet, word document, blog, or whatever, as long as you’re keeping track of three things. These three things are:
  2. Goals. Make sure you have them, both long and short term. If you don’t know what you’re working for, then how can you do any kind of meaningful work? Sometimes the goals will be set out for you by someone else (finish this project, do this job) and other times your goals will be self-directed (clean the house, learn a language). Whatever the goals, you’ll need to get in the habit of writing them down. Then you need to…
  3. Translate these goals into tasks. The problem with some time management techniques is that they don’t focus enough on the individual tasks, or “action steps,” that you need to do to actually complete the goal. Procrastination occurs because we see the task “clean the house,” and have no way of getting ourselves motivated to take on that Herculean task. It would be much more doable to, say, “clean the bedroom,” and make that part of a series of tasks that can help us reach some kind of goal.
  4. Finally, we need to monitor progress. You need to know where your time is going, and how effective you are being. Many people claim, “oh I worked for 12 hours today!” Sounds great. But if you actually could go back in time and observe them, you may find that they would be using the majority of that time for pointless activities that don’t help them move towards the goal at all! That’s why self-monitoring yourself is so key. Again, you can keep track of your progress in any kind of log or journal that you want, but you need something that you can audit at a later date so that you can truly say to yourself, “I’m this productive.” Without the written trace, you’ll be lost like everyone else who doesn’t dedicate him or herself to time management training.
  5. A good temporary time management technique is to keep a detailed log of your daily activities, maybe for as long as a week. After the week, analyze your study to see where your big time sinks are and where you can clean up some inefficiencies. You may be surprised about what you find!
  6. One of the simplest ways to budget your time is to make lists. The to-do list is a great way to sort and organize your tasks for the day – as long as you use it the right way. What consists of the “right way” depends on your tastes and situation; some people only like putting their AAA priority tasks on the list, while others put almost everything they have to do on the list. There is no one “right” way – there is only the way that is right for you, a way that you can only discover through trial and error.
  7. You may also want to use a time management chart. Time management charts allow you to “block” your time over a certain period, usually a week. The one main weakness about these is that they are a bit too rigid; if something changes or something else comes up, you may find it difficult to handle the changes that will reverberate through the rest of the week. However, if you like more structure, these charts work better for you.
  8. One of the best way to learn time management methods is to continuously practice. Like all habits, breaking old ones (your time wasting activities) and learning new ones (the ideas mentioned in this chapter) will take time and repetition. In addition, you will also need feedback of some kind to let you know that you are making progress (or stagnating, as the case may be). Otherwise, you will be floating around in the ether with no bearing, and you will not make progress towards your time management goals. Training time management isn’t something that happens in one day or one week – in fact, it really doesn’t even happen in one lifetime! This is something we’ll work on and improve forever; this shouldn’t be depressing, but in fact exciting, as we can always get better at what we do.
  9. Of course, your time management strategies will have to be tailored to your personal situation. If you have a bunch of free time and need to make sure you spend it wisely, this is a different problem than if you have a hectic, busy schedule with lots of other commitments and things to do for others, so many things that you need help winnowing the field. In addition, your strategies will depend on your tasks, your job, your goals, and so on. Thus, we can’t exactly tailor this advice for you in particular; you’ll have to do that job yourself over time. Don’t be afraid to adapt the system or your approach to the situation as it calls for it. You don’t “have” to do anything here if it doesn’t make sense for you.
  10. A huge difference between someone who has better time management over someone who doesn’t is how well they use their “down time.” By this I don’t mean time for recreation, as you need to budget in time to enjoy life and recuperate. (This is sometimes called the Unschedule.) What I mean by down time is the time in between other appointments, or the time spent waiting for something else. This is essentially wasted time, mostly because we don’t really try to get work done during the transition. We think of it as time that’s part of other activities. The person who is better at managing themselves will actually use these precious minutes, whether they are 5 or 25, to get small pieces of work done. If you are commuting, for instance, you can get some reading or other paperwork done. If you are waiting for 10 minutes between a meeting, start doing some other work that is productive. With the rise of smart phones, it’s easy to just burn those minutes away in pointless surfing and chatting. Resist that urge.
  11. Learn to prioritize. This comes into play when we discussed “working smarter, not harder,” and it comes into play again with respect to time management. Spending your time “working” is great, but if you’re working on something that’s low priority, it suddenly doesn’t look very good. That’s because there are opportunity costs at play here – the more time you spend doing one activity, the less time you can spend doing a (potentially) more valuable one. Learn to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. (You may recall seeing the ‘urgent-important’ time management quadrant in other sources). Are the urgent things in your life truly important? Some may be, but a lot won’t. Focus instead on the long term projects and goals that will lead you to the promised land of success and satisfaction.
  12. Delegate and learn how to work with other people to increase overall productivity and save more time. This is probably one of the most effective time management strategies, simply because you can get more done with more people in a way that’s more than simply the sum of the parts. This is because people can synergize and strategize – who can do what activity the best and fastest? What is the best use of the collective time. Of course, if you are more of an individualist, you don’t have to go out and find partners. But do think about delegating some tasks to assistants or colleagues, if possible. Time is money, so sometimes it will “pay” to pay someone else to do a rote task for you.
  13. Learn to “block” your time and focus on one task as you go. Multitasking is the bane of many peoples’ existence, especially with the increased speed of technology and communication these days. Despite what it seems like, you are actually less productive and effective when you are multitasking than when you are focused on one task until you crush it. Of all the time management tips and tricks laid out here, I truly think it is this one that has changed my life for the better. I’ve banished the multitasking demon, largely by switching off my computer when possible, and I’ve seen great increases in my productivity.
  14. Kill procrastination. This is one of the more desired time management goals out there, which is why we dedicated multiple chapters to the topic.
  15. Don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done. Improving time management is not just about deprivation and struggle. The ability to control your impulses and discipline yourself is a rare skill, one that should be rewarded when it works out for you. If you have a productive day, make sure to reward yourself with some quality time with friends, family, or yourself. Enjoy hobbies and general relaxation. Don’t become a workaholic. We have much more to say about work ethic and working hard in other chapters of this webbook.
  16. Get a time management system. These systems (products, books, software, videos, etc.) can give you a more integrated and developed perspective on time management. Everyone has their own different take on the issue, and we’ve given you a good general grounding here, but it may also be useful for you to get one of the great products or time management tools out there to aid you in your quest. We’ll have more information on this (reviews and recommendations) in the next chapter.
  17. Be careful about these personal time management tools, though. Sometimes they can be cumbersome and unwieldy in themselves. If your software and tools are themselves taking up too much time, what’s the point? Sometimes simpler is better, indeed!
  18. Kill distractions. This is something I had a problem with – the Internet, especially – and it takes some effort to remove their tentacles from your life. Identify your problem areas and work really hard to remove or limit them. For instance, if you are in a social environment, you may burn up a lot of time simply by getting interrupted by visitors. Try to avoid this as much as possible by putting up signs, lowering your availability, etc. Do whatever you have to do to get your blocks of time finished.
  19. Phone calls, e-mails, and social network status updates (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc.) are huge distractions and time burners. Good time management skills include managing these constant distractions. Turn off notifications, let calls go to voicemail when possible, and limit your checking of these things to just a few times a day.
  20. Watch out for the huge time burners – those activities that you do that are utterly pointless and, in the worst case, counterproductive and destructive. These are deadly sins because you are burning up time that you can never get back. It is worse than burning money.
  21. Sometimes the best time management strategy is the simplest: eat right, exercise, and get sleep. Be positive and don’t dwell too much on the negative. Take care of yourself and that will often take care of time.
  22. Don’t rush through tasks to get them done. We want to get things done right; don’t let your time management training activities make you obsessed with meeting some arbitrary “time limit” or “deadline.” Make sure the job is done right so that you don’t have to go back and redo your work.
  23. Teach time management to others. Teaching time management forces you to understand the concepts and know how to communicate them to yourself and others. You will internalize them to a degree you won’t believe when you can explain them to a newbie.
  24. Be rigorous with your system, but avoid burnout. All the time management help in the world will be useless if you can’t fathom picking up a pen or doing an ounce of work simply because you’ve burned yourself out on the notion. Take your time, don’t rush, limit your stress, and take breaks! You don’t have to be a marathon man; as Tony Schwartz recommends, life your live like a sprinter – periods of focused energy followed by periods of rest.
  25. Finally, this is not the most pertinent of the tips on time management discussed here, as it doesn’t deal with the present, but don’t forget the deep future – what do you want to be doing or have accomplished five, ten, or even twenty years from now? Your activities today should reflect these long term goals in some way. You may want to dedicate some of your weekly or monthly time to thinking these questions through so that you are always oriented towards a brighter future of your own design.

Chapter 7: What is Time Management? Definition and Meaning

==> Go back to Working Smarter, Not Just Harder

Now we get to the important topic of time management. Of course, this topic combines much of what this webbook has already discussed: procrastination, productivity, laziness, hard work and work ethic, and so on. I hope that this piece differs from other articles on time management in its depth, scope and complexity.

Time management is a piece of this puzzle, but a very important piece…and ultimately perhaps the most important piece of all. This article on time management will discuss the basic definition of time management, why time management is important, and the benefits of time management. It is an introduction to a topic that will eventually lead us, in the next chapter, to discuss ways to improve our time management skills and abilities. I won’t waste your time with time management quotes; instead, we’ll get to the nitty gritty of the topic so that we can understand it on the most basic level. But first, let’s figure out what exactly we’re talking about here.

A Preliminary Time Management Definition

So what is time management, really? The definitions that you’ll find out there will vary. One good definition of time management, from Wikipedia, is “the act or process of exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase efficiency or productivity.” Thus, time management is defined in this decent attempt as related to our efficiency and productivity with respect to particular activities, including projects, tasks, and goals.

In addition, the issue is made more complex by the fact that time management is a constellation of many different activities. For instance, organizing, focusing, planning, goal setting, allocating resources and personnel (if necessary), maintenance of time, monitoring of time spent and efficiency of products, prioritization, scheduling, and many more activities are all involved under this umbrella term of ‘time management.’ Thus it is not so simple to define time management, as it is a complex activity.

The Meaning of Time Management

All of these official definitions are nice, but what about the meaning underlying the concept of time management? The meaning of this concept is quite profound once you peel back the layers of the issue and truly think about what time management can do for us. This discussion may get a little philosophic and “out there,” as most essays on time management don’t hit the topic this hard, but I think truly understanding the deep meaning of the concept – and its importance – is key to help us improve our skills in this domain. Here then is a brief “theory of time management” – and as you’d expect, it all comes down to the unique quality of time itself.

Time is the most important and priceless thing we have at our disposal. Many innovations and economic advances in life are simply those that make things go faster, or allow us to do more in less time. That is, it’s all about efficiency with respect to the resource of time. Things that grow the economy and each individual life are things that increase the amount of collective time we have at our disposal, and thereby increasing the capacity of each individual. Thus, it’s not even about time management in itself, but rather the capacity of each individual to produce over his or her lifetime.

In addition, time management is bound with not only what we are doing but also our goals in life, career, education, etc. The idea is to get the most done in the shortest period of time (a.k.a. high productivity) while not missing the forest for the trees during the process. Thus we are not so much managing “time” as we are managing products or outcomes; we want to get the most out of the least investment we can. There’s a sense of efficiency here, of productivity, of industry, and of hard work, all rolled into one. Thus, the discussions in earlier chapters all contribute in their own way to our understanding of this complex concept of real time management.

Time management used to be focused on business and corporate settings in the context of increasing employee productivity. But more and more individuals are finding the idea critical for their own personal success, leading to a huge influx of literature and products on how best to manage time.

Why is Time Management Important?

Time is truly all we have – it is the most precious resource, and for that reason it must be preserved and conserved. We can never recover those lost seconds, so every second we waste on a pointless pursuit or feeling is a second we’ll never get back. On this basic level, then, time management is about preserving this time so that we can have more of it.

In addition, because effects can compound over time, to lose a second is to lose more than a second – it is to lose a period of time that will grow and compound over the rest of time. For instance, to produce something of value now with our time is to create something that will last for our lifetimes and probably beyond. Thus, wasting time now is also being a thief of time and value later.

On a real and individual level, successful time management helps us to be successful in our lives. If we waste time and don’t act efficiently, we won’t get as much done, and we will probably be unhappier during and for it. Bad time management can lead to all problems – not just lack of success and disappointment in life, but also to stress and other emotional issues. Bad time management and stress and time management and procrastination go hand in hand. Thus, time management is not just a practical issue but also an emotional, spiritual, and even physical one. Poor time management leads overall to negative life outcomes, and in the end it just holds back our potential. Squandering time is worse than squandering money, because unlike money, we cannot earn that time back. It is lost forever.

Thus, the importance of time management lies in what it can do for our lives and for society in general. But what is effective time management anyway, and what are some examples of time management that we can use to guide us?

What is Effective Time Management?

There are of course tons of time management theories that give their own reasons what makes time management useful. We will discuss how to improve time management in the next chapter, but for now let’s just discuss what we consider the qualities of effective time management. Good time management will be:

  1. Productive – we’ll get more done
  2. Efficient – we’ll get more done with less effort
  3. Beneficial – we will feel better and act better
  4. Easy to implement – hard, complex time management systems can cause more problems than they solve
  5. Adaptable – these systems should be able to apply to many different areas of life, whether career, health, relationships, hobbies, and more
  6. Useful – time management should solve problems

Great time management is not just about watching clocks and counting minutes. It’s also about prioritizing, goal setting, and becoming clear on values. Sure, the minutes count, but it’s also critical to spend the minutes on the right things, not just “acceptable” things. Opportunity cost is key here – the time we spend doing something else is time we could have spent on a more productive and valuable activity.

Examples of good time management systems, skills, and ideas that follow these principles are TODO lists, scheduling, the 80/20 rule, “unscheduling,” and more. We’ll discuss these and other ideas on how to improve time management in the next chapter. And in a later chapter we will discuss the best time management products and resources out there. For now, let’s just leave the qualities here as markers for what would constitute solid and workable time management advice.

The Advantages and Benefits of Time Management

The benefits and advantages of these skills may be obvious, but let’s list some of the more critical ones anyway (we’ve already mentioned some above):

  • Less stress
  • Better health (physical and mental)
  • More money
  • More time for fun and fulfilling activities
  • More success at lower personal costs
  • More success at lower societal costs
  • Meeting your potential
  • More time with family
  • More discipline
  • Greater sense of purpose

This is just a small sample. Unfortunately, many people don’t see, or ignore to see, the benefits of these practices. Time management studies and other research into human productivity (many of which have been discussed in other chapters of this webbook) have shown that we are terrible, overall, at managing our time, and I believe we are getting worse. With entertainment and other distractions at our fingertips, we will continue to get worse with managing our time if we don’t take action now. Time management statistics show that we are getting more and more unable to ‘unplug’ ourselves from the social and digital network; for that reason, we get lost in activities that seem to be ‘useful and productive’ but are in fact nothing of the sort.

People who have time management problems obviously will experience the opposite of some or all of these benefits. They will be huge disadvantages and negative draws on energy, vitality, and happiness.

Let’s Figure This Out!

With all this out of the way, let’s figure out how exactly to improve our time management skills.

==> Go to Chapter 8: Time Management Tips, Techniques, and Skills

Working Smarter, Not Just Harder

==> Go back to How to Get a Strong Work Ethic

Now that we’ve discussed the different definitions and meanings of ‘hard work’ and ‘work ethic,’ we get down to the question of how to improve our ability to work. In the end, it comes down not only to being able to work hard, but also to work smart.

To work smart means to get more done with less energy. This means we increase our productivity, or the output to input ratio. Someone who can get more output with a certain level of input can get more done overall, feel better about it, and maybe even enjoy a life outside of working all the time.

We could, of course, just put more straight effort into everything we do. And this will have beneficial effects. However, the effects may not be optimal or efficient. We may be working really hard at something that doesn’t produce that many results, and a little smart tweak could potentially make the work easier and more productive. We may find virtue in working really hard on something, but there’s no virtue or nobility in the idea of working hard at something in an inefficient or suboptimal way.

Thus, we need to figure out how to work smart, not hard, though of course this is not an excuse to be lazy. I don’t want to make this a battle of smart work vs. hard work, as both are necessary ingredients for success. The best aspect of working smart is that you’ll be more motivated as you will understand and be able to measure how well your efforts are rewarding you with success and products.

How to Work Smart and Work Hard

In the final analysis, we may need to change the definition of ‘hard work.’ We constantly think about it as the process itself, as the (negative) emotions we feel when doing it and the willpower that is needed in order to motivate ourselves to doing it. Maybe instead we should call ‘working hard’ those activities that are most effective, optimal, and productive, even if they may seem ‘easier’ on the surface. We could even say that getting rest and recuperation is an important ingredient of working hard! (More on this idea in a minute.)

These following ideas will allow us to make sure we’re working at an optimal and efficient level. Note that we can never work perfectly – there will always be inefficiencies – but at least we can try our best to optimize our efforts and get the biggest bang for our proverbial buck.

  1. Always focus on outcome, not simply appearances. In the end, we all want to be effective, not ‘efficient’ for efficiency’s sake, or neat for neatness’s sake, or whatever. What matters in the end is actually being productive, so focus on the activities that will lead you to success.
  2. Don’t only focus on productivity – focus on what’s valuable. Sure, perhaps you could do a project really quickly and effectively, but it’s often better not to do it at all if it provides no value for you. Be ruthless here – you can often go back and do the project if you need, but it’s impossible to go back and “undo” the project and regain the time you lost.
  3. Make a good plan. Really analyze what needs to be done, and the steps that need to be completed in order to finish a task. Focus on the essentials. Investing this ‘non-productive’ time may actually make you fantastically more productive when it comes time to actually do the work.
  4. Don’t work for appearance’s sake when it comes to impressing others or getting sympathy for others. There’s absolutely no point to staying late at the office if it will yield you no benefits. It will usually be better to go home and get rest so that you can be at your top performance level the next day. The fresher you are, the better you’ll perform.
  5. Learn about and understand the Pareto principle. This idea states that approximately 20% of the activities we do will lead to 80% of the benefits. To put it more simply, there are certain activities and actions we do that contribute the most to our success; other activities may be important, but they are secondary to these main contenders. Thus, we need to focus on those 20% activities that will lead us to success. Highlight the tasks in your work and personal life that give you the biggest benefit, and then focus on them.
  6. Make sure you’re organized. If you have to struggle to find what you need or wade through the garbage in your office, room, or desk, you are being terribly inefficient, as you are spending resources trying to navigate your environment. Make sure your space is clean and organized so that you can move from task to task and goal to goal efficiently.
  7. Don’t try to be perfect – avoid perfectionism. Nothing will ever meet these impossible standards, so being a slave to them will do nothing but allow you to beat your head against the wall. Work smart, not just hard!
  8. Block your time so that you’re focusing on one task at one time, then moving on after completing the task (or at least hitting a milestone). Multitasking, as we’ve discussed elsewhere in this book, is the bane of our existence! The worst part about it is that it seems productive, even more productive, than simply focusing. Unfortunately, scientific studies have shown that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
  9. Block out your day in advance as much as you can. Anticipate the times of the day when you’ll have to do required activities and try to make your workflow as efficient as possible. Those who get the most done are the ones who are able to slot in little work sessions in even the smallest section of the day.
  10. Make sure you have the right tools and equipment for the job. Doing things the “old fashioned way” may look like you’re working hard on the surface, but instead you’ll just be wasting time and energy. Use the right tools for the job in order to take the “shortcuts” that will make you get more done with less energy.
  11. Give yourself a break! Make sure to take breaks throughout the day to account for the natural ebb and flow of your attention and energy. The more you understand your ‘natural’ work process, the more efficient and productive you’ll be through the day. Sometimes truly working hard is not about “bearing it” but about doing things the ‘smart’ way, even if others may see it as slacking or have a weak work ethic. When you blow them away in terms of results, then they’ll see.
  12. Be adaptable. If something isn’t working, change it! There’s no sense steering your ship into the shore if you can manage avoiding a disaster. Sometimes changing your plan during the middle of the process can help you avoid many problems and can increase your overall efficiency.
  13. Get help! Sometimes people will do things better, faster, and cheaper than you. Don’t be afraid to delegate, as this is one of the best ways to work smarter. You can then focus your time on your high value tasks and not have to waste it being stuck in the trenches.
  14. If you have a team, make sure all the components of the project are worked on in harmony. Managing these parallel processes can be complex, but there’s nothing more important. Watch out for the bottlenecks and the ‘limiting reagents’ that will keep back the entire project. Try to minimize their impact and increase the efficiency of the project as a whole.
  15. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to avoid tasks that will yield you no positive benefits. Much of what we think we “have” to do is of course not mandatory at all – you may be surprised at what you can cut out of your life without measurably harming it or others. Many people just generate all kinds of busy work and time wasting without stepping back and calling it what it is: junk. Of course, sometimes these tasks will be unavoidable, and it’s a really great thing to help out other people in need. Still, be smart about your selection and your efforts – you can help more people in the end if you are productive and efficient than if you are scattered and out of focus.
  16. Don’t get bogged down in the details, but make sure to take care of them. There is nothing efficient about skipping or slacking on the critical aspects of the job, only to have to return to them later to fix the big mess that was created. Get the job done right the first time.
  17. Figure out your own habits that will lead to increased productivity. For instance, do you work better at a particular time of day? If so, focus your biggest tasks then. Do you find yourself working better in certain places than in others? Focus on getting yourself into the better environments. This isn’t rocket science, obviously – listen to your intuition and trust your judgments. More often than not, you’ll be happily correct.

Don’t Forget to “Work Hard, Play Hard” Too!

We can’t forget, finally, that life isn’t all about hard work, despite what our work ethics might tell us. Life is about fun, recreation, and recuperation as well. In addition, you will be able to work both smarter and harder if you take a rest; working too hard can lead you total burn out, which will absolutely ravage your ability to actually accomplish something. Slow and steady wins the race – don’t burn out your abilities!

Thus, don’t forget to work hard, play harder – enjoy your time off when you’ve earned it. There’s no reason to feel guilty about not working when you’ve actually done something to earn that pleasure.

==> Go to Chapter 7: What is Time Management?

How to Get a Strong Work Ethic

==> Go back to What is Hard Work?

One of the biggest compliments you can give and receive is to be associated with having an excellent work ethic. But what does it really mean to have a good work ethic? We can know its definition, just like with procrastination, hard work, and time management, but what does it truly mean, i.e. what is its significance in our lives? This section of the chapter on “hard work” will discuss the concept of work ethic, how it goes hand in hand yet also differs from ‘hard work,’ and how we can develop good work ethics in our day to day lives.

The Definition and Meaning of Work Ethic

What is work ethic? We’ve asked this question other times for other concepts around hard work and procrastination, so we must also ask this for work ethic, and in the process find out both its “definition” and its “meaning.” Most people think work ethic means that you’re a hard worker, and while this is true, it’s focusing too much on the first half of the phrase, “work.” What about the second half, “ethic?” In what sense is there a concept of ‘work ethics’ or the ‘ethics of work’ that we can understand and apply to our own lives? If you look in the dictionary, you will find that work ethics is defined as “the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward.” This is an interesting definition, as it emphasizes that work is ‘good’ in the sense that it provides either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. Having a good ‘work ethic’ thus doesn’t necessarily mean that you work hard in itself, but that you believe (and your behavior reflects) the notion that hard work is good in itself as well as in the products that it can help create. Where does this idea come from?

The Source – The Protestant Work Ethic

While the concept of ‘hard work’ and ‘work ethic’ is quite general and universal, most people associate its rise in importance with the rise of the so-called “Protestant work ethic.” This was the religiously rooted belief (especially through the Calvinists) that hard work, and the success in this world that came with it, was a sign of a person’s salvation. Thus, it was ‘required’ in a sense to work hard, because otherwise being lazy would be a sign that you weren’t one of God’s chosen or someone who would be saved.

Even if you are not Christian or religious at all, you have still felt some of the effects of this philosophy in the way our society holds up a strong work ethic as something to be praised and valued. While most people today don’t believe that you will go to Hell if you don’t work hard, we still believe deep down that hard work is good for our body, our mind, our soul, and our society.

Of course, as we discussed in the section on the concept of ‘hard work,’ sometimes this obsession with work ethic can go way too far. We work ourselves so hard that we hurt our bodies, our minds, our souls, and our relationships. Thus, an important component of a good work ethic is the ability to stay in balance – to dedicate ourselves to a cause and a project, yes, but also to remain in balance and be able to sustain such effort. And in the end, we work hard because we want to enjoy life, so letting work dominate our lives in such a way that it harms the quality of our life significantly is going against the principle reason why we want to work so hard in the first place.

Thus, the concept of “work ethic” means not just what it produces but also what it reflects about our own character; it’s our position statement with respect to what we believe our efficacy is in the world. We look up to those who work hard not simply because they are successful but because they are in some way inherently noble and good. Tales of amazing work ethics abound; there are plenty of work ethic examples out there if you look in nearly every human endeavor. From business to sports, academia to industry, to hobbies of every shape and size and all human pursuits, we praise people and seek to emulate those examples of people who work hard and grow in their chosen domains and as people.

Note that other cultures too have their own versions of work ethics, so I don’t mean this just to be about one culture or about one religion. The point is to see that our beliefs about hard work are embedded in our culture in significant ways, and that avoiding them can be difficult even for the nonreligious.

Does Work Ethic Matter?

In general, having good work ethics should translate into personal and professional success. Companies are always looking for people who work hard (but work healthfully, too). However, in some situations it may seem that working hard and having a good work ethic isn’t really worth it for the worker. This is a sad situation and should be avoided, both by the worker and the company or organization that is creating such an environment. In a perfect world, people should be rewarded in proportion to the value they create and how hard they work, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work like that in practice. Still, this is no reason then to throw up our hands and slack off at everything. On average, working hard will lead to better outcomes in our lives, so we should try our best to do it.

Note as well that work ethic goes hand in hand with other qualities – that is, that are certain work ethic characteristics and values that go along with someone who works hard. These qualities may be valuable and noble in and of themselves. These values include punctuality, cooperation, persistence, integrity, creativity, responsibility, and more. By strengthening our work ethic, we can develop other qualities and values that others will admire and respect and that will help us succeed in all domains of living.

How to Improve Your Work Ethic

If you believe that you are lacking in this area, don’t worry: there are some tips, tricks, strategies, and methods to help develop a hard work ethic. In the end, as with almost all human behavior, it comes down to habits: learn how to control your automatic behavior and you’ll be able to change nearly any aspect of your life. Thus, learning how to change your habits won’t happen in a day or even a week; however, once they are learned, they will stick with you!

  1. Make sure you’ve got your time management and procrastination issues worked out. Obviously these go hand in hand with a solid work ethic, so if you need help in these areas, check the other chapters of this book that deal with them! Some of the concepts in those articles will be repeated here, but there will be techniques and tips that only be found there, so make sure you check out those chapters.
  2. For instance, you’ll want to be on-time or early to work and other places where you want to be productive. If you run around like a mad person, you won’t be able to get situated and focused. Being scatterbrained and multitasking won’t be conducive to a truly good work ethic, even though it may give the illusion of one.
  3. Work on your communication skills. To work hard you will also have to work well with others. This also means that you should be positive and constructive with people, especially when offering criticism. The goal is to increase the capacity of everyone, no matter their position or abilities.
  4. Be professional and put off a good, positive attitude. Not only will this help your interactions with other people, but it will help you to keep in a positive and productive frame of mind. Negativity and doubt is a sure productivity killer, so reframe your mind to look for possibility rather than negativity.
  5. Don’t just worry about yourself – help others out too! Having a good work ethic not only means respecting your own capacity for work, but also helping others when they need it and when it would raise the efficiency of the group. Be a ‘team player,’ not just a ‘me first’ player.
  6. Don’t wait to be told what to do – be proactive, not just reactive. Take initiate on projects and try to anticipate potential problems and setbacks.
  7. Structure your environment to improve your work ethic. Surround yourself with great work ethic quotes. Put up pictures or other things to remind you of your values. Play music, set up your desk, avoid distractions…do whatever it takes!
  8. Put down your tasks on paper. You need to be able to get everything out of your head and onto a visual medium, so get used to writing down your short, medium, and long term projects and goals. Then break them down and tackle each piece one by one.
  9. Believe in yourself! This goes with having a positive attitude, but you need to have an external locus of control. This means that you have to believe that working hard can actually make a difference in your life and in society. Sometimes it doesn’t always work, but it’s certainly better than giving up and not trying at all.
  10. Focus on quantity, yes, but not at the sacrifice of quality. Take pride in your work – don’t just do things quickly to “get them done.” At the same time, don’t get sucked into the perfectionism habit. Nothing will ever be perfect, so it’s an insane attempt to even try it. And in general…
  11. Avoid the illusion of productivity. Don’t try to show off to colleagues or impress the boss with empty actions and words. Truly be productive; this will be more valuable and effective in the long run.
  12. Don’t be flaky – if you have a deadline, meet it. If you have a meeting, don’t be late or skip it unless there’s a true emergency. Dependability is another virtue of a strong work ethic, so cultivate it and guard your reputation.
  13. Keep at it. As stated above, everything we do is habitual. It takes time to break an old habit and form a new one, so monitor your progress and keep going until you succeed.
  14. Rest and recuperate. A good work ethic doesn’t mean “working constantly until you burn out or die.” A good work ethic means that you can sustain it for an indefinite period of time, i.e. your entire life. This means taking time to smell the roses, enjoy your family and friends, enjoy hobbies, and just enjoy life.

The Four Keys of an Awesome Work Ethic

If I had to sum up work ethic in four phrases, they would be:

  1. Do it now
  2. Do it right
  3. Keep doing it
  4. Finish it

Follow these and the keys to the kingdom are yours.

Now let’s learn about more about not only how to work harder, but also to work smarter.

==> Go to Working Harder, Not Just Smarter

Chapter 6: What is Hard Work?

==>Go back to How to Be More Productive and Increase Productivity

One topic that I’m quite interested in is the notion of ‘hard work.’ It’s a phrase, along with its relatives and synonyms (working hard, hardworker, hard day’s work, etc.) that is quite common to hear in everyday parlance. At least in the United States, if not the Western world, hard work is seen by many as a critical ingredient for success. We do hard work simply because we believe that “hard work pays off,” and this is certainly true in the correlative sense, i.e. hard work correlates with success. But does it guarantee it?

In this miniature essay on hard work, I’m going to ruminate a bit on the concept of hard work – where it comes from, why we value it so much, and how valuable it really is. I hope this essay is of value to any hard working person or hard working student out there as a way to open up a conversation about a topic that seemingly goes unchallenged or undiscussed.

Where Does Hard Work Come From

As I’ll discuss more in the next section on “work ethic,” in general we associate the concept of working hard (especially for its own sake) to the Protestant work ethic. Work, through this worldview, became a good, or an end, in itself. The actual outcome of the work didn’t matter so much as the work itself, and what that work said about the person who was doing it. So began our own beliefs in the value of hardwork, values which still affect much of our thinking on the topic today.

But Hard Work Pays Off…Right?

We extol the virtues of the ‘hard working’ employee or business owner, and this label of ‘hard working’ is almost a badge of honor for many people. How many hours you put in a week, or how rarely you take a vacation, is something to be proud of for many people, as it’s a sign of their ‘productivity’ and ‘ambition’ (or so they think).

Much of the time, this love of hard work is harmless or even beneficial, as it’s the foundation of much of the society, culture, and economy we enjoy. Unfortunately, some times this respect for hard work just goes too far. In fact, there are cases of super hard working people actually working themselves to death. This takes the saying of “hard work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” into “hard work and no play makes Jack a dead boy.”

Thus, we need to put some skepticism forward here. Given the religious and cultural origins of the concept of ‘hard work,’ and given the dubious benefits associated with working hard for its own sake, we need to question the concept. Is it really true that ‘hard work’ is what we should all aspire to? What’s the limit? Is working yourself to death something to be proud of? What about happiness in this life?

Of course, hardwork is definitely important, and it’s critical to success in almost any fear of endeavor, but we can’t make hard work an end in itself. This is what we’ve been doing for the past few centuries, all starting with the Protestant work ethic. We have to remember that hard work is a means towards an end, and it’s that end that we must keep in sight at all times.

This whole question is made more complicated by the observation that hard work in itself is not sufficient for success. There are plenty of hardworking men and women out there who are busting their butts but finding little to no reward that’s commensurate for their efforts. Thus, there are other factors surely involved, such as luck, what kind of work is being done, and other factors that may lie out of the person’s control. Thus, sometimes we can’t even evaluate the worth of hard work by its material or life outcomes. If we don’t meet our goals despite all the hard work, does that mean the hard work was pointless?

Now, to the crux of the question: So when is hard work good, and when is hard work ‘less good’? When is hard work constructive, and when is it destructive? I believe the answer is this: hard work has to be meaningful, both on a small scale (what kind of work are you doing and what kind of value does it provide) and in the longer term (towards what long term goal is this hard work aiming for?).

So What is Meaningful Hard Work, Then?

Still, this isn’t to say that hard work that you “don’t want to do” is meaningless. And it’s also not to say that you have to be constantly working either. Sometimes it’s good to be “hardly working” instead of hard working, as we do need to take rests and recuperate in order to achieve maximum efficiency. But the key, again, is to make sure that we don’t make putting in long hours and lots of effort as an end in itself. We put in that time and that energy because we are working towards something, not simply working.

The key part to hard work’s meaning is the conjunction of “hard work and dedication.” In the final analysis, truly valuable hard work is all about dedicating yourself to some end goal that the hard work is in service of. It’s pointing yourself towards some meaningful goal – and that, in the end, is what makes hard work meaningful. We barely notice that we are hard at work when we are in flow, when we are fully engaged in something that we believe in and value. This is the key to happiness in many ways, given that so many people feel and experience only misery in their work lives.

Put it this way – picking up a heavy rock, carrying it up a hill, and then rolling it back down to repeat the process 100 times in a day – that’s surely unbelieveably “hard work” in the sense of energy and effort expenditure. But in what sense is it meaningful? How could we say that this hard work would be the ‘key to success’ in any way? And yet we do something similar in much of our lives. We are ‘working hard’ but in reality performing no work at all, because the work is busy work, or it’s pointless, or its needlessly inefficient, or something of that sort.

The Value of Hard Work

Even though I’ve slammed the concept of ‘hard work’ a bit in this article, I do want to stress that I believe the importance of hard work can hardly be overstated. I truly do believe that hard work beats talent any day of the week. Many other scientists and investigators and researchers not only believe this, but they have showed it. For instance, take the ’10,000’ hour rule, which states that all masters or experts in some field of study have put in at least 10,000 hours in it before they reach this master stage. I truly believe that hardwork beats talent simply because there’s not really something called ‘talent’ that exists. Sure, perhaps we have certain inclinations or slight head start advantages. But in the end, the human brain and body is so adaptable that anyone, with the right practice and procedures, can do anything at a very high level. Granted, perhaps not everyone can become world masters, but certainly anyone can be in the top 1% of any activity if they put their work and time in. The key is – few people will actually go out and do this.

How Can I Work Harder Then?

Now, what you may be thinking is, “This sounds great, but how can I improve my work habits?” Many people believe or think that they have a fear of hard work, but I believe that such a belief is false in the vast majority of cases. As we’ll see, one of the main reasons people don’t work hard is because they don’t see the point to it – it’s not meaningful. So don’t worry, we’ll talk more about this – we’re getting there! First, let’s take a detour and make a small discussion of the topic of ‘work ethic.’ Then we can finally start discussing the ways we can all not just work harder, but also work smarter.

==> Go to How to Get a Strong Work Ethic

How to Be More Productive and Increase Productivity

==> Go back to What is Productivity?

Now that we’ve determined our own individual measures of productivity, it’s time to figure out how to be more productive and, ultimately, happier and more successful. (That’s really what this is all about, isn’t it?) Note that much of what we say here will also mesh well with other discussions we’ve had in this webbook, most notably those discussions on how to eliminate procrastination and how to overcome laziness. Thus, you may want to consult those chapters too if you haven’t already!

Once that’s done, we can then implement these following tips, techniques, tricks, and strategies for our own productivity improvement. Don’t try to implement them all at once. Instead, it’ll be better to hit one at a time – really make sure it sticks and becomes a new habit. Once that’s done, move on to the next tip. If you implement most of these tips on this page, you’ll be come a factory, a machine!

One thing before we dive into these general tips: there will be some aspects of your activity that you will be doing that can be improved to help you increase productivity. However, those improvements will be limited to that particular activity and your particular habits; thus, you’ll have to discover and experiment for yourself on how to find these little tricks, as there’s no way I can give you every single possible way to improve productivity in all possible activities in existence!

How to Be Productive While Staying Sane and Healthy

  1. The first step is preparation. If you don’t have a plan for the day, week, or even year, you will not know where you’re going. This of course builds into the first step of this process – finding out what productivity means for you – but it’s also important for measuring and monitoring your progress to your goals. Make sure you have goals, and make sure you break down these goals into manageable, digestible parts. Then you will be able to figure out where you are, where you are going, and presumably how long (and how much effort) it takes to get you through each step.
  2. As stated above, think creatively about the work you are doing, and try to come up with ways to ‘work smarter’ instead of simply harder. I can’t give you much more specific advice than this, because who knows what you, specifically you, are trying to do, but you can get some of your best productivity improvements if you focus on the activity itself and the places where you can clean up your efficiency.
  3. Learn your rhythms, i.e. the times of the day (or night) where you have the most energy. For some people, this is the morning – they are early birds. Others get huge bursts of energy at night – a.k.a. night owls. Whatever your habits, figure them out and leverage them as much as possible. Funnel your most important work into the times of the day when you can get the most done with the smallest energy expenditure and draining of your willpower.
  4. Use sticky notes or other tools to help remind you of your goals and to keep you focused on improving productivity each and every day. Sometimes even the best intentioned of us can let life get in the way, allowing us to fall into the ‘haze’ and forget the goals that we really care about. Thus, use little reminders to help catch a wandering mind.
  5. Don’t get complacent – always look for ways to improve. The method of constant improvements holds that you continually look for even the smallest improvements in your process and your productivity. Even though each change may be small, their cumulative effect will be large.
  6. Realize that you cannot be a perfectionist, nor can you finish each and every task that you have before you to a level that may ‘satisfy’ you completely. Thus, instead focus on priorities – get the most important things done first, not necessarily the most urgent, and make sure you’re making steady progress towards your end goal.
  7. Don’t get stuck in ruts – make sure you adapt as your internal and external situation changes. For instance, if your work environment or colleagues change, allow your productivity and your habits to change (positively) with those tremors. Don’t do the same things just because you’ve always done them, even if they were once productive, because they may not be productive in new circumstances like they used to be in the old context.
  8. Avoid the nasty productivity sucks – for most workers, the main problem is the computer, and in particular the internet. Blogs, Facebook, Youtube, games, general time-wasting sites – the amount of stuff out there that can distract you is near infinite. This is perhaps the most important tip for office workers and, especially, people who work at home who want to be more productive. Thus, you’ll want to avoid web surfing aimlessly during the periods when you should be working. If you can’t control your own habits, you can use little programs and apps that will ‘lock’ the internet, or just certain sites, during particular periods of time. This will force you to avoid those time wasters and focus on working instead.
  9. E-mail is a particular time waster, as are phone calls and text messages. Cut off the Blackberry if you can, as every distraction will cut heavily into your productivity. Every time you have to get yourself refocused on your task, it will take precious minutes and energy to get recentered on your task. Try to get and stay in ‘flow’ as much as possible.
  10. Kill multitasking too. Unfortunately, we all suck at multitasking, even if we may swear that we’re really good at it. Thus, focus on one thing at a time, do it to completion (or at least to a checkpoint or milestone), and move on to the next activity on your to do list.
  11. You may have personal productivity sinks that affect you in the same way as the Internet, such as TV, magazines, reading, video games, daydreaming, or chatting with friends and colleagues. Identify your weaknesses and ruthlessly eliminate them if possible.
  12. If you want to improve your productivity, you may have to take some constructive criticism to heart. In fact, you should seek it out, because the fact is that it’s very hard for you, from your own, personal perspective, to be a 100% unbiased critic of your own habits and actions. Thus, find someone you can trust who will be able to give you advice on what an outside observer thinks would improve your productivity. Obviously, trust your own instincts and don’t change easily according to the whims of someone else, but seriously take their critiques to heart.
  13. Crush bad habits you have. What negative habits and actions hold you back? They don’t just have to be physical – sometimes mental habits, like negative self talk, can severely damage our ability to be productive. In fact, if you want to know how to be more productive, more often than not the answer will lie within you and your mind.
  14. Make sure you are healthy – eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. Not having enough energy, physically, can put a sever damper on your ability to produce and consume energy.
  15. Take breaks, get your rest, and recuperate and rejuvenate! Going 100% all day, every day will only lead you to burn out. In fact, even when you are rolling along, you may not be operating at your most efficient. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking regular periods of doing nothing but resting can help you be more productive when you return to work and, therefore, more productive overall. In general, short for work periods of 45 minutes to an hour and a half for an optimal work to rest ratio.
  16. Do your most hated tasks first. Conquering these in the first part of the day (also known as ‘eating your frog’) will get the biggest task off your plate and give you the momentum to absolutely plow through the rest of your tasks.
  17. If you have a commute, or other periods of dead time, try to couple them with more productive activities. Of course, don’t compromise your safety, but try to recover as much time throughout the day that you can.
  18. Get help when you need it. Don’t try to do everything yourself – sometimes getting an outside perspective and assistance can be the difference between low and high productivity.
  19. Delegate tasks that you can let others do, especially if they can do it more efficiently. In fact, sometimes the best thing you can do is totally drop tasks completely – if they are unimportant and not urgent, why are you doing them?
  20. Pace yourself – don’t burn yourself out in a rush of activity. You’ll want to maintain your energy and consistency throughout the day, week, and even year – so make sure to take your rests, but not too much rest that you totally atrophy.
  21. What if you’re trying to improve the productivity of not just you but also others, such as people in your team or your employees? The principles of employee productivity are much the same as listed above. Treat them with kindness and understanding, but at the same time hold them to rigorous and fair standards. Apply these tips in your own life first and then find out how best to communicate them to others so that they will understand their power and utility.

Productivity Tools

As a final note, there are many productivity tools out there that can help you get and stay productive. A word of warning, though: sometimes these productivity helpers can actually make things worse, as they themselves can suck up your energy and attention. Make sure that productivity software and other tools stay just that – tools – and that they don’t become the center of the show.

One great tool you can use to increase your productivity is The Action Machine. I’ve recommended this tool in other parts of this book, but that’s just because I believe in it so much. It combines many of the virtues that we discussed above – planning tasks, setting milestones, and focusing on one task for a solid, uninterrupted chunk of time.

There are some other productivity training products out there that can help you learn some other techniques, skills, and methods to hone your personal productivity. The best ones of these products may even be specific to your field or goals – the more specific to what you’re trying to do, the better of course!

==> Go to Chapter 6: What is Hard Work?

Chapter 5: What is Productivity?

==> Go back to Chapter 4: Laziness and How to Stop Being Lazy

It is not easy to give a simple, one line definition of productivity, simply because it means different things in different circumstances. The definition of productivity that you might find in a dictionary is: “the state or quality of producing something.” This is not very helpful, as it reuses the word ‘produce.’ A more interesting definition is “the effectiveness of an effort – related to the rate of output per unit input.”

Of course, this definition is quite abstract, as it can be applied profitably to many different parts of the world. For instance, if you are talking about a factory (industry is often where this word is used), you may talk about the number of units produced per hour by the factory. Or you may talk about how many units each worker puts out. Or you may talk about how many dollars each worker ‘earns’ through his or her labor for the company. As you can see, the measures of productivity can vary widely – and this is just for the example of factory productivity! You can see that this discussion is very complex, as we need to figure out our context, what we’re inputting into the system, and what we’re producing (i.e the output of the system).

Let’s take personal productivity as our next question. Let’s say you want to discuss your own productivity. You may take the input in question as time, energy (calories), units of ‘work,’ dollars, or whatever else you might use as a measure of the amount of effort or work you put into whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. Your output can similarly be described in many different ways. Perhaps it’s in the amount of sales you make, or in the amount of words you write, or in the amount of dollars you earn per day, week, or year. The output you produce depends on the activity you’re doing and your goals for that activity.

As you can see, getting a definition of productivity down on paper that everyone would agree with is next to impossible. The fact of the matter is that we will all have our own definitions of productivity. And it gets even more complicated…

What About the Meaning of Productivity?

Another aspect to this story is the realization that productivity, like procrastination, time management, and laziness, has a definition and a ‘meaning.’ We could give you a dictionary definition, which we did above, but that’s not enough to settle this story. We also need to figure out what productivity means – it’s significance and meaning in our individual lives and in the lives of our communities, countries, and the world.

For instance, we can ask questions like: is productivity good in itself? Is being more productive always a good goal? Or is there a point where one can become ‘too’ productive, in the sense that this productiveness will harm other aspects of our lives and communities?

Measuring Productivity

As we’ve discussed above, attempting to define productivity is hard enough. Add in the fact that it’s often very difficult to even measure productivity in the first place, and you may be ready to get rid of the concept altogether.

Still, there seems to be some value in the concept, because if we don’t have some measure of the ratio between our effort and our production, we will have no way to know if we are becoming more efficient, if we are using our energies optimally, and how we can possibly improve on whatever it is that we’re trying to do. Businesses could never grow in an orderly fashion, countries could never flourish, and people like you and me would never be able to meet their maximum potential.

For the purposes of this webbook, we will simply be discussing productivity in terms of your productivity in life. I know productivity could represent something you’re doing at work, at home, or at play, or somewhere in between, but let’s just agree on this temporary definition: productivity is the ratio between the beneficial outcomes of some activity and the amount of energy, physical, mental, or emotional, that you invest to earn that outcome. You may also want to use time as the input here, but time can be somewhat deceiving, as just because something takes a long time doesn’t mean that you put in a lot of effort, and vice versa. In addition, our reactions to the work we will have to do are based both on how long we perceive the task to be, as well as how much effort we believe we will expend in completing that task.

Thus, we will want that ratio to be as high as possible. This means we want to put in as little effort as possible per unit output. This doesn’t mean we want to slack; on the contrary, we still want to work very hard. But the idea, as we’ll discuss in another chapter of this book, is finding ways to work smarter, not just harder. Ultimately, we’ll get a morale boost and a productivity boost just by knowing that we are doing our work at the peak of our efficiency and optimal performance.

To Conclude This Section…

Thus, before we go into discussing ways to improve your productivity, you need to figure out how you will measure your own levels of productivity. You may have a relatively ‘objective’ measure of productivity like ‘widgets per hour,’ or you may have something else a bit more fluffy, like ‘ideas per week’ or some such productivity measurement. All that matters is this: first, that the measurement actually corresponds to something meaningful to you; and second, that you can measure it accurately enough that you will be able to tell when you productivity has increased and when it has decreased. Once you can do that, you can venture to the next section of this book on how to increase your personal productivity with just a few simple tips and tricks!

==> Go to How to Be More Productive and Increase Productivity

Chapter 4: Laziness and How to Stop Being Lazy

==> Go back to Chapter 3: The Best Procrastination Help Resources

Some people say that we are in a lazy generation, that “kids today” don’t want to work, and that the adults out there aren’t much better. On the other hand, other numbers show that people today are working harder than ever – more hours and fewer vacations. So are we really lazier than we’ve ever been?

I know a slacker or too, as we all probably do, so it may seem like they are more prevalent than they really are. However, we can’t look at one or two cases and make a quick judgment based on those little data points. When it comes down to it, we’re probably not that much lazier than other generations. I’m automatically skeptical of these kind of “golden age” claims, simply because it seems that every generation looks forward to the next one and makes these same complaints. We shouldn’t confuse the way work has changed and the way society’s expectations and patterns have changed with laziness. Sometimes the world changes, and the old standards and ideas about work just don’t keep up.

Nonetheless, sometimes I do feel that there is a bit of merit to the charge leveled against this generation. Today, more than ever before, the lazy person has access to so many distractions – TV, the Internet, video games, and other activities that seem much more alluring than doing work. In addition, many people of this generation do have an ‘entitlement’ or ‘superiority’ complex – they believe they are better than they are, and this surely affects their work habits. Finally, this generation is one of the most affluent in all of history, and nothing breeds laziness more than having enough to eat and plenty of free time.

Whether this generation is lazier than others is beyond the point. People being lazy has been a problem for generations and will always be a problem. The solution that we have to think about is how we can help people to stop being lazy instead of looking around for people to blame. Before we can do that, we need to figure out the definition and meaning of this term.

Definition of Lazy: What is Laziness?

The general definition of laziness is someone who doesn’t want to work, doesn’t want to use energy, doesn’t want to put in effort, and doesn’t want to try to do anything worthwhile or productive. There are a lot of synonyms for laziness, such as indolence and sloth – sloth, of course, being immortalized as one of the seven deadly sins. We have a lot of images that we associate with laziness, such as a lazy person lying on a couch, watching TV, eating potato chips or some other junk food, and just generally being a drain on society.

If this sounds like you, or if you have ever been accused of laziness, you may take pride in the label, but most people do not see it as a badge of honor. In fact, laziness is one of the biggest problems in the world, linked to procrastination, social and cultural problems, sickness and unhealthiness, lack of education and jobs, poverty, and more.

Of course, defining laziness does not get at its meaning, just as defining procrastination doesn’t get to the underlying factors that may cause and classify the ‘condition.’ For instance, is someone just lazy by birth, by their genes, by their natures? Or are they lazy due to circumstance, or perhaps not being trained or taught properly? In other words, is it nature or nurture?

It seems to me that, as with everything it seems, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, it does seem that some people are born more energetic and hard working than other people. Some people just seem to want to take the easy way out on everything, and this habit may seem to run in families. However, it is hard to extricate this from the learned habits of being in situations that reward or encourage laziness, or in situations that don’t reward or encourage hard work and effort. Note as well that laziness may also be a sign of some other problem, medical or mental. For instance, the link between ‘laziness’ and depression is well founded, because people who are depressed generally have low motivation and low willpower to do anything, in the most extreme cases even to live. So we can’t just attack people without due cause.

Thus, we shouldn’t demonize people that are lazy, as this can just cause them to withdraw more. It simply doesn’t help the issue. Think about it – people, when attacked, will usually withdraw more. They get stubborn and don’t want to respond to the criticism; in the case of laziness, the lazy guy or girl may just withdraw further, as they are even more discouraged by the outside world. The definition, causes, and ultimate meaning of sloth is irrelevant when faced with the mission to stop it. Of course, knowing the causes can be important in our efforts to treat the disease and not simply cover up the symptoms, but the information should never be used as a label or cudgel.

Interestingly enough, unlike procrastination, few scientists and psychologists have done studies on this concept. Of course, ‘laziness’ can be broken down into many different components and features, and many of these (like procrastination) have received scholarly attention. Still, given how much ‘laziness’ carries a cache in our society and discourse, we can only hope that the scientific community takes the problem seriously and eventually explores the prevalence, impact, and causes of this widespread phenomenon.

Thus, armed with this understanding of laziness and its causes, we need to figure out a better way to motivate people to take action, a way that is beyond blame and beyond nagging.

Laziness and Procrastination

Before we go on to discuss some tips and tricks on how to stop being lazy, let’s briefly cover the link between procrastination and laziness. Sometimes, lazy people will use procrastination as a tool to avoid work. However, regardless of this fact, these two things don’t meant the same thing. Someone can procrastinate and not be lazy – perhaps they avoid particular kinds of work while working hard in other areas of their life. Some people will do really hard and unpleasant tasks in their avoidance of other tasks that they don’t want to do! Laziness is marked by simply not doing anything productive or trying to do anything with effort. Thus, while a procrastinator may be lazy, not all procrastinators are lazy. One might say, though, that lazy people are generally (if not always) procrastinators themselves, as they simply put off everything good and productive in their life for wasteful pursuits and burned time.

How to Overcome Laziness

If you want to overcome laziness, try some or all of these strategies to help you break out of your rut:

(1) First, consult the discussion of how to overcome procrastination. It may not be that you are lazy, per se, but that you have problem with prioritizing your tasks and putting less important things over important things.

(2) You can also work on your time management skills as well, as you may find that your issue is not with effort in itself but in your use and planning of time. You may also find that once your time is planned and made more efficient, you may also feel increased motivation and desire to actually do the tasks that you have to do given the improved framework.

(3) Work on your physical self. You may not be eating well, exercising, or getting sleep, and these bad habits can act as breaks on your motivation, energy, and productivity. You may also have a physical or mental illness that could be zapping you of your productive power, so you may want to go to a doctor if the issue is especially severe or has been with you for a while.

(4) Model people that aren’t lazy. We all know these individuals – they never need to find out how to stop being lazy simply because they are busy as a bee. They are always moving, always working, always producing – and they aren’t burning themselves out at the same time either. Thus, find these people and figure out what makes them tick. What habits do they have that allow them to be so productive and energetic? How do they structure their day? And most importantly, how do they keep themselves motivated through the inevitable ups and downs of life?

(5) Figure out what you’re doing in life. Sometimes laziness is just a function of your confusion or plain old hatred of your life path and the things you do in your daily routine. If you’re lost, do some soul-searching to figure out what you want to do with your life. If you can find the thing that gives you passion and lights your fires, you will not have to worry about laziness as much because you will be drawn directly to do the activity out of some internal force of nature.

(6) Some people find affirmations and visualization useful. I’ve generally found little success with these methods, but you should at least try them to see what you can get out of them.

(7) Get tools and software to help you overcome your laziness. For instance, this software, The Action Machine, can help both motivate you and keep track of your time (time management) in order to make you more productive, and, most important, get your momentum going in a positive direction.

(8) Take a break. Ironically, sometimes lazy people are just too stressed out and overworked. They have forgotten how to truly relax, so the time spent ‘being lazy,’ i.e. watching TV or just doing nothing, are actually unproductive periods of leisure. Instead, find activities and experiences that are truly relaxing and restorative. You may find after switching to these activities that you’ll have more motivation and vigor to pursue your work goals.

(9) Set up a system of rewards. Create a system that will reward you positively for reaching small, attainable goals. This is better than simply having arbitrary rewards or no rewards at all. Come up with a system and rewards that work best for you, but I really like the variable reward ratio, as it is the most fun and most ‘addicting’ in the long run.

(10) Determine the causes or triggers of your laziness and attack them. For instance, if you are lazy due to lack of motivation, find something that gets you going. If you are lazy because you are overwhelmed, get more organized. Treat the underlying cause and the ‘symptom,’ i.e. laziness, will go away too.

(11) Build up your self esteem. Believe that you can do whatever it is you need to do, and that you can do it well. Sometimes people are discouraged early in life from doing certain things; as a result, they simply shut themselves down to avoid that fear of failure or fear of ridicule. Instead, reprogram yourself to think more positively – this will help you take more risks and will motivate you to start overcoming laziness.

(12) Just get started. As we discussed in the chapter on overcoming procrastination, getting started is often the hardest part of actually doing the activity. Once you get going, you will find that you’ll be rolling forward to success.

==> Go to Chapter 5: What is Productivity